National Parks

Bikepacking, National Parks

Bikepacking The White Rim Road


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I had extremely low expectations about bikepacking the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park, in fact I had pretty low expectations about Canyonlands in general.  I do a lot of reading about National Parks and I’ve never seen an image from Canyonlands that has captivated my attention.  As for the bikepacking aspect, I had this notion that the White Rim is route that everyone’s already done, and I tend to gravitate more towards originality and blazing my own trail.  Fortunately, my expectations were so far from reality and our trip through Canyonlands is one I will remember for a lifetime.

When we arrived in Moab on Friday afternoon it was a breezy, but pleasant 65 degrees and sunny.  After picking up some firewood we drove out of town, and headed west on Highway 313 toward the park.  We had roughly two hours before sunset and decided we might as well head straight to Horsethief Campground to set up camp and get our bikes ready for the 100 mile trip before us.  Horsethief Campgroud is located ten miles north of the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, just outside of the park and happens to be one mile north of the northern corner of the White Rim Road route, so it serves as a perfect staging area for those driving in from out of town.  While I was disappointed that we wouldn’t get to officially check out the park that day I knew we had a lot of gear to get ready and would need to start early the next morning in order to make it 72 miles to our designated campsite on the White Rim Road before dark.

The further we drove away from Moab the darker the skies got.  A cold front was coming in and it was coming in fast.  By the time we arrived at the turn off for the campground the skies were black and the wind was howling.  Tumbleweeds flew across the road in front of us as it started sprinkling.  We had no cell service at this point, but I knew from checking the weather earlier that there was a chance of rain for the next four hours.  Neither Ryan or I were thrilled about setting up our tent and bikepacking gear in rain and 25 mph wind so we decided to drive into the park and check it out – hoping the weather would pass.  Our first stop was the Shafer Canyon Overlook where I excitedly ran out of the car to take in the views, Moab and the rest of civilization felt millions of miles away.  I got my first glimpse of the Shafer Canyon switchbacks and told Ryan that this ride might be a little more intimidating than I had anticipated.  I watched as an SUV slowly navigated a few switchbacks working its way carefully down the steep descent and silently reminded myself that my descending abilities had come a long way.  After snapping a few pictures we quickly hoped back in the car to get out of the cold wind.

We continued deeper into the park and stopped again at Grand View Point.  While the Shafer Canyon Overlook had gotten me excited the scene before me at Grand View Point blew my mind.   It’s hard to describe the view, but it was vast and rugged and made me feel very very small.  As we walked around the overlook trail we traced the White Rim Road some 1,000 feet below us, which traversed another layer of the canyon overlooking the Green and Colorado Rivers below.  Even from high above on the Island in the Sky mesa we each mentally noted a few pucker worthy sections, where the road was right up against the canyon’s edge.  Soon enough the earlier drizzle turned into steady cold rain and we ran back to the car.  As we drove back to the campground the rain was coming down sideways and was looking more and more like a ‘wintery mix’ – the thermometer in the car read 32 degrees and we decided to head back to Moab and get a hotel for one last night in a warm bed before starting our bikepacking adventure.

Canyonlands Grand View

The next morning we woke up early and bundled up in several layers of clothing and drove back to a trailhead just before Horsethief Campground to park the car and head out on our fully loaded bikes.  Neither of us packed much gear since we planned for one night on the trail and had to carry all of our water.  Our goal for the first day was to make it Potato Bottom Campground, where we had a permit to camp, which was 72 miles from our starting location.  Around 8:30 AM we set out and had roughly seven miles of pavement until we got to the Shafer Trail turn off that we had seen the day before.  It was generally downhill which made the miles go by quickly, but it certainly didn’t help warm me up – despite the fact that I was wearing my ski gloves and shoe covers (they are like a wet suit for your feet that you wear over your shoes)!  Three guys from Colorado rode passed us on their bikes while we were taking a picture by the park entrance, but other than that we had the road to ourselves.

As soon as we started descending the Shafer Trail Switchbacks I became aware of the remoteness and expansiveness of the canyons we were entering.  With each switchback I was overwhelmed with new views and was having a hard time focusing on riding my bike and making sure I didn’t drift over the edge or gain too much speed.  I wanted to look down at the rivers below and up at the canyon walls or out at the pinnacles and spires jutting up from the canyon floor.  The grade was between 12 – 15% and I decided it would be more enjoyable for me to walk some of the steep sections and look around instead of getting scared because of the extreme amount of exposure.  We watched as the three riders from Colorado sped down the trail, eventually turning into three small dots that disappeared in the distance.

Shafer Trail Switchbacks

Once the grade mellowed out we jumped back on our bikes only to break a few minutes later to start shedding layers.  We were finally out of the shade from the canyon walls and getting warmed by the desert sun.  The next ten miles were relatively flat with short climbs and descents.  We pedaled beneath sandstone walls and different monuments and mesas appeared with each twist and turn we took, we even got a few glimpses of the Colorado River further below.  The road conditions varied from loose dirt, to sandy washes and sandstone rock formations.  There was nothing technical, but lots of small ledges to ride up and over – enough to make my handlebar roll buzz against my tire each time I rolled off of one.

 

I carefully watched my GPS and our pace as we slowly meandered our way along the white rim.   Three and half hours after we left the car we had only traveled twenty-five miles.  With short winter days I knew we’d have to pick up the pace in order to have a relaxing evening at camp before sunset.  While I knew our pace was slow because of all the pictures we were taking, I also knew my legs weren’t feeling responsive and my inner dialogue quickly became negative – I doubted myself and my ability.  The self doubt and negativity started to impact me and I finally spoke up the next time I got on Ryan’s wheel.  “Ryan, I have to tell you something,” I said, “I’m already feeling pretty tired, I don’t know if I can make it to camp before dark.”  Fortunately, we’ve never been on a bike ride together where we are both having off days at the same time.  This was no different.  Ryan took my comments in stride and asked a few questions to make sure I was staying on top of my water and calories and suggested we take a break a few miles up the road to eat lunch.  The truth was I was skimping on my calories, because I started foolishly worrying that I hadn’t packed enough food.  My heavy backpack was also bothering me, so when we stopped for lunch I laid down on a nice rock bench to stretch out my back and shoulders.

Canyonlands Lunch Break

I felt better right after telling Ryan that I was worried about my pace, it was as if saying it out loud gave me permission to stop beating myself up and enjoy the rest of the day.  Unfortunately, the next twenty miles were a long gradual uphill slog.  Luckily the epic views never let up so it was easy to keep my mind off of my fatigue.  Despite the gradual uphill we did pick up the pace and were getting back on track to making it to camp.  We ran into the guys from Colorado at the intersection of the White Crack Trail.  They were waiting for their support vehicle and were running out of water.  We stopped to talk and all admitted that the riding was slower going than any of us had thought.  Since I had plotted out the route on Strava beforehand I also incorrectly announced that we had already completed most of the climbing for day one.  Little did I know my Strava projections were off by over 1,000 feet and we had a gnarly one mile climb ahead of us.  We eventually got to that climb up to Murphy Hogback, here the road turned into extremely loose dirt with large rocks and the grade exceeded 30% in some sections with little space between you and tumultuous fall over the edge into the canyon below.  We resorted to pushing our bikes uphill – which seriously slowed us down.  The conditions on the descent were the same, so I unfortunately had to walk down the other side as well.  Reaching Potato Bottom before dark was no longer in reach so we decided we’d ride to Candlestick Campground – which was only ten miles further versus the twenty-one to Potato Bottom.

During the last ten miles golden hour started to set in and the canyon walls lit up with hues of orange, red, and brown.  It was an incredible sight.  We got passed by a few more energetic riders and supporters who happened to be camping at Candlestick.  When we arrived there they graciously welcomed us and shared their warm food and booze with us, which was awesome since Ryan forgot his flask back in the car.  As we stood in the middle of nowhere, under a star filled sky, surrounded by an assortment of bikes and camping gear with a handful of strangers – I was reminded why I love this community so much.

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I had difficulty falling asleep that night because the air was so cold, but my core temperature was still high from all of the riding.  Despite my restlessness it was an incredibly quiet night.  In addition to being in an extremely remote location, riding the White Rim Road requires a permit so the number of people, bikes and vehicles out there are quite limited.  It was also hard not to notice the complete lack of wildlife, I didn’t hear a single howling coyote or hooting owl the entire night.

When we woke up the next morning there was ice all around the tent and the temperature on our GPS read 26 degrees.  We quickly tore down camp and got back on our bikes to finish the ride. Shortening day one meant we had 38 miles ahead of us – with a fair amount of climbing.  The road eventually meets the Green River and travels beside it for several miles before intersecting with Mineral Bottom Road, which climbs out of the canyons.  The first eleven miles to Potato Bottom were downhill and easy riding.  At Hardscrabble we encountered a one mile climb that was reminiscent of Murphy – the grades were over 20% but this time we were riding through sand.  I felt like a football player pushing a sled and came close to face planting a few times as I tried to keep my footing.  After another steep descent it was flat riding along the river and through sandy washes for the final eight miles on the White Rim Road.  In a few places the sand was too deep to ride through on a fully loaded bike so it was on and off the bikes as we made our way out of Canyonlands.

As we came upon the intersection of the White Rim Road and Mineral Bottom Road a show unfolded in the sky before us.  Base jumpers were lining up on the cliffs at the top of the Canyon and one by one jumping down to where we stood below.  This provided some entertainment for us as we had a quick bite to eat before starting the arduous climb ahead of us.  Mineral Bottom Road, like the Shafer Trail is a tight network of switchbacks climbing back up toward the Island in the Sky.  There are no guardrails and the exposure and drops offs are no joke.  The road climbs almost 1,000 feet in 1.5 miles.  I decided to get a head start on Ryan while he watched the base jumpers and started steadily making my way out of the canyon.  The first half of the climb was manageable but as I began navigating the short switchbacks near the top the amount of traffic increased as base jumpers shuttled back and forth and the exposure started bother me.  My legs were also cooked from the previous day so I surrendered to walking my bike up the last section of the climb.

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The final thirteen miles to the car were a slight uphill and cut through a sprawling prairie.  It didn’t take long for it to become hard to imagine there was a colossal canyon just a few hundred feet away.  The canyons became hidden in flat plateau that stretched out as far as the eye could see.  The scenery changed less frequently here making it hard to think about anything other than my aching legs and the fact that my backpack was becoming the bane of my existence – it was quite literally a pain in the neck.  At this point we were both ready for the ride to be over, when faced with these circumstances Ryan tends to speed up and try to finish the ride as quickly as possible – trying to ‘get it over with’.  I on the other hand evaluate everything causing me pain and angst and dial my effort to whatever will be the most tolerable for the duration of the activity.  These vastly different approaches caused Ryan to drift further and further ahead as I slothfully made my way back to the car.  I didn’t think it would have been possible for us to travel slower than we had on day one, but it seemed with each passing mile my pace slowed.  Finally, Ryan suggested strapping my backpack on to his, when I protested he said “This will help me because it will help you go faster!”  Soon enough we made it back to the car, took our time to unload our gear and enjoyed celebratory cokes!

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National Parks

Crater Lake National Park


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“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.” – Psalm 95:4.

Crater Lake captivated me as soon I caught my first glimpse of its perfect blue water.  At a depth of almost 2,000 feet it is the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth deepest lake in the world.  The tranquil glassy water is so still, clear and calm that staring down at the lake from the snow covered peaks above is entrancing.  I constantly had to remind myself that what I was looking at wasn’t an illusion, making it all the more fascinating.  Ryan and I had the unique opportunity to visit the park at the end of the winter season, when there was still close to ten feet of snow depth at the park.  The quietness of the winter, the beauty of white snow capped mountains and crisp cool air added the magic I experienced at Crater Lake.

While visiting parks in the winter provides solace and a special way to experience natural wonders, it does limit the activities available to visitors.  Since Ryan and I only had time for a day trip we rented snow shoes from the visitor center and hiked/snowshoed along the Rim Drive; a 33 mile road that circumnavigates the lake.  By the time we visited the park in mid April, the park service had already started plowing the road in anticipation for the summer season.  Therefore, the first mile or two of our hike was actually through an impressive canyon of snow pack.  As we climbed out of the snow canyon and off of the road, we got to see park rangers operating the massive snow plows, which not surprisingly, fascinated Ryan.  The downside of this was that the snow was piled so high making it impossible to see anything until we got on top of it.  I hope to make it back to Crater Lake in the near future, I would love to do a winter backpacking trip around the entire lake and visit in the summer for camping, cycling and maybe even a quick swim!

Crater Lake was formed when Mount Mazma erupted, and imploded on itself, leaving a 5 mile wide and 1,943 feet deep caldera.  Given the high elevation and large amount of snowfall each year the crater quickly filled with pure, fresh mountain water. 

National Parks

Riding the Towpath in Cuyahoga Valley National Park


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I grew up about twenty miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went on field trips to Hale Farms and the Ohio and Erie Canal, concerts at Blossom and learned to snowboard at Brandywine & Boston Mills Ski Resort.  So it was almost funny when I realized that Cuyahoga Valley National Park existed; granted I was kind of a late bloomer when it comes to being an outdoor enthusiast and National Park buff.  Two years ago when we traveled to Cleveland for my best friend’s wedding, Ryan and I stopped at the park to check it off our list.  The entire park was covered in snow then, we even built a snowman on a walk to Brandywine Falls.  Last weekend Ryan and I went back to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to ride bikes along the Towpath.  There aren’t many safe places to ride near my parent’s house and there is a serious lack of bike shops in Northeast Ohio so we ended up on the Towpath by default – Century Cycles in Peninsula is the only shop that rents bikes on Sunday mornings.  It worked out well as the shop is located right on the path, and given our love for National Parks Ryan and I weren’t complaining at the chance to spend some time in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

As some of you know I have a distinct fear of falling, I often describe it as a fear of heights, but it’s really not that.  It is actually a fear of falling off of an edge.  Things like hiking trails on exposed ridge lines, descending steep switchbacks and crossing tall bridges tend to make my palms sweat and stomach tie up in knots.  I have a few vivid memories from my childhood where I can recall my fear of falling being triggered.  The first was a repeat offender, crossing the bridge to get from the parking garage to the Gund Arena (now “The Q”).  I always walked quickly and as far away from the glass windows as possible, this was quite ridiculous since the bridge is a solid enclosed structure.  The other fear I had was that I was going to fall into the Ohio and Erie Canal.  I know this fear was instilled in me when I went on a field trip to the canal in elementary school.  The adults that were giving the demonstration and explaining how the locks worked weren’t super enthusiastic, despite their stunning early 1800’s attire.  In fact, I don’t really remember anything about how the canal worked or the history of the area, which is unusual given I have a great memory.  The only thing I remember is the strict warning we received, if we weren’t careful and behaving we might fall in the canal and get trapped in one of the locks.  I was terrified, and have been coping with a fear of falling ever since.  Years later I remember my Dad asking me if I wanted to go ride bikes on the Towpath, which paralleled the canal.  I refused because I was categorically convinced that I would fall off the path and into the canal.  I’m sure my Dad thought I was being a teenage brat, because that must have seemed like the most illegitimate fear imaginable. So regrettably, I didn’t spend much time on the Towpath growing up, which is a shame because it is an incredible path for running and cycling that travels 81 miles from Bolivar to Cleveland.

Ryan and I rode 12.5 miles (for a 25 miles ride) of the path this weekend and he must have said how nice the trail was five times.  We only got to go from Peninsula to Rockside Road before we had to turn around and get back to my parent’s house, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  We even got to ride past the very spot where my fear of falling was born, the Canal Exploration Center at Lock 38, where the demonstrations and history lectures are given.  I had to laugh to myself and the irrationality of my fear as we pedaled past the locks.  First of all, there are several stretches of the path where there is no visible water on either side, second the path doesn’t butt up directly on the water’s edge, there is a barrier of grass and dirt between the two, and finally the water is shallow and stagnant.  If in fact anyone ever were to fall in its not as if raging rapids would carry them away.  That’s the thing about fears though, by their very definition they are irrational.  They rob us of our intelligence and logic if we let them and manifest themselves into insurmountable and paralyzing monsters.  Once we learn how to battle and quiet our fears and overcome them we can look back and see how senseless they were to begin with.  While I can proudly say I am no longer afraid of falling in the canal, my fear of falling still gets me from time to time, especially while mountain biking, but I’ll save those stories for another post.  I had a great time facing my fear head on this past weekend and look forward to riding on the canal again someday.  I’d like to do the Towpath in its entirety, and maybe even tackle the whole Buckeye Trail, hopefully on my own bike next time.  Dad, if you are reading this it’s time for you to start training!

If you don’t know a canal lock is like an elevator for boats, it lifts or lowers the boats onto the next level of the canal.  The trail is called the Towpath because it used to be a towing trail for mules to tow the canal boats along the water. 

National Parks

Pinnacles National Park


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Ryan and I visited Pinnacles National Park on our way to Monterrey, California for Sea Otter Classic.  We only had time for a quick day trip so we did a short hike through Balconies Cave on the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop trail.  The park itself is quite small so there wasn’t a need to spend more time there, however, if we had time to do an overnight trip we could have hiked across the entire park.  Despite the small size Pinnacles was far more intriguing and beautiful than I had expected.  The pastoral and peaceful landscape was contrasted by the sharp, jagged rock formations rising above the rolling plains.  Years ago volcanic eruptions and shifting tectonic plates created the unique ecosystem found here.  Pinnacles National Park is definitely worth checking out if you are ever in the area.

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Bikepacking, National Parks

Bikepacking Redwood National Park


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Our giddiness on arriving at Redwood National Park vanished as soon as we stepped out of the car at Elk Prairie.  The grass was still covered in dew despite the fact that the noon sun was blazing hot and the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife.  As we begrudgingly loaded our gear into our bikepacking bags and backpacks I stripped down to shorts and a sports bra, my skin was covered in a salty sweat.  After forcing down some lunch I peeled a jersey over my sticky body, wiped the sweat from my face and we set out on our bikes. (more…)

National Parks

Exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park


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“The joy of living is his who has the heart to demand it.” – Theodore Roosevelt.

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National parks are dangerous, they are remote, rugged and have an abundance of wildlife (a.k.a. bears).  In the days leading up to our trip to Lassen (pronounced [lass-uhn]) National Park I did a lot of reading about places to go and winter activities in the park.  Everything I read made Lassen seem more and more dangerous.  In addition to the normal ruggedness, wildlife and remote location this park also has frequent avalanches and rock falls, a likelihood for high wind and white out conditions, puddles of boiling acidic mud scattered alongside the trails and is centered around an active volcano; while an eruption is highly unlikely it is called active for a reason.  Thankfully, this was a spur of the moment trip so there wasn’t much time to get anxious about the looming hazards; we packed our bags, didn’t tell our Moms what we were doing and set out for a weekend of snowshoeing.

On Friday at 9 AM we drove through the unmanned ranger station at the north entrance of the park, as we pulled into visitor center parking lot, we excitedly noticed there was not another car in sight!  We were officially the only people there!  As we unloaded our gear from the car we realized we had only brought one half empty nalgene for the entire day, uh oh.  So add lack of water and no other humans for miles onto the growing list of risk factors.  Luckily, the restroom facilities were open so we topped off our one and only bottle and figured we could refill it with snow if we got really desperate.

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After signing into the log book outside the visitor center we wandered into the snow to strap on our snowshoes.  Being our first time it took us (me) a little while to get the shoes strapped on.  After finally getting situated it immediately dawned on us how difficult navigation is when the trails are buried under three feet of snow!  The only information we had on the trail/route we were taking from Manzanita Lake to Chaos Crags was this tiny paragraph and drawing from the park newsletter.  Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 2.35.42 PM

We read the newsletter a few times and then set off, blindly following the tracks from previous snowshoers. After walking for a quarter of a mile, we had a spirited discussion about whether or not we were on the trail.  “Are we still on the trail?” and “I don’t know..” were by far the most common phrases from the entire weekend.  I decided we should go back to the start and more deliberately follow the newsletter instructions instead of the existing tracks.  So back to the bridge we went to course correct.  It turned out we were in fact not on the trail and quickly determined where we needed to go.  That however, did not last long.  We were supposed to be looking for yellow tree markers, which were extremely infrequent and hard to spot.  They seemed to appear every quarter of a mile and there were trees everywhere, which tree were we supposed to look at?  There were also ski and snowshoe tracks going in every direction all over the place!  For all of the threats of avalanches and acidic mud pots lurking around every corner it seemed that everyone was perfectly comfortable to blaze their own trail.

We continued in what we assumed was close enough to the right direction with nothing but the sound of our swishing rain pants and the snow crunching beneath us to break the silence.  Every so often we would lose the previous tracks we were following and allowed instinct to guide us.  Eventually we came to a clearing in the trees and saw Chaos Crags looming above us.  Chaos Crags are lava domes that were formed by a volcanic eruption 1,100 years ago.  Steep snow covered slopes littered with huge chunks of gray rock, otherwise known as the jumbles, which we affectionately called crumbles, separated us from the tall jagged peaks ahead.  The jumbles were left from a rock avalanche 300 years ago that flattened parts of the forest and created Manzanita Lake (by damming the creek) where our trek had started.  With the trees no longer obstructing our view, I began deliberately marching up the mountainside.  After a while we determined we were definitely off the trail and decided to take a lunch break on a pile of jumbles.  We took some pictures, enjoyed the views and planned our route for the rest of the afternoon.

On the way back down the mountain we decided to follow ski tracks straight down to the road so we could create a loop with another trail in this section of the park.  Our description for this trail was equally lacking in details, but this time we would be looking for orange trail markers.  After snowshoeing down the road for about 1.5 miles we started to spot some orange ribbons tied around the trees.  We studied the curves and bends in the road as compared to the map and found where it appeared that the trail crossed the road and headed into the woods. We followed the orange ribbons weaving through the trees and were happy to see a ribbon every couple hundred of feet or so. The conditions however were not pleasant, we were constantly ducking under branches and stepping over fallen logs.  How could this be a National Park trail? We continued spotting ribbons and weaving through the woods like two kids following a treasure map.  Suddenly, the ribbons stopped appearing.  Not this again! After a few desperate circles in every direction we gave up and headed back in the towards the road.  Just as we were about to make it to the road Ryan spotted an orange tree marker (not ribbon!), we were never even on the trail to begin with!  We continued to follow the orange tree markers only significantly loosing track of the trail once more on our hike back towards the car.  After 10 miles and 1,400 feet of climbing our feet were soaked and our legs were tired.

For our second day of snowshoeing we drove from our cabin down to the Southwest entrance to the park.  During the summer the park road is open between the two entrances, but in the winter the road is closed, so we had to drive 90 minutes back through small towns to get to the entrance.  The drive traveled scenic winding roads through farms and and sprawling green pastures.  Cows lazily grazed in the pastures which were blanketed in volcanic rock.  As we continued driving Lassen peak grew smaller and smaller in the distance, but this seemed to have no bearing on the density of rocks spread across the fields.  While this part of trip wasn’t even inside the national park  boundaries, it gave me a real appreciation for the gravity and magnitude of volcanic eruptions.

As we approached the park the road quickly gained elevation.  Upon entering the park the snow was piled so high on either side of the road that it felt like we were driving through a canyon.  Even the visitor center was buried!  We parked our car and started strapping on our gear.  There was certainly a lot more activity on this side of the park, but calling the park crowded would be a stretch. Despite the ski and snowshoe celebration event and families sledding near the entrance we still found ourselves on the trail with no one in sight several times.  Our first destination on day two’s hike was Sulphur Works.  This is one of the areas in the park where visitors can experience lot of volcanic activity firsthand.  We got to stand right next to a boiling mud pot and observe steam rising out of rocks and hillsides.  The steam and boiling mud are a result of snow melt and rain seeping into the hydrothermal system beneath the park. Here the water is heated by molten rock and the boiling water and steam rise back to the earth’s surface through cracks in the rocks.  As we marveled at the interesting features Ryan mentioned that it smelled like fireworks, I on the other hand said the smell reminded me of downtown Cleveland.  Ahh, fresh air with a strong sulfuric odor!

We had planned to hike to Ridge Lake from Sulphur Works, but by this point we had already passed the trailhead parking lot.  Like everything else it was hard to spot in all of the snow.  The restroom rooftop just barley peeking out from the snow was the only indication that we had passed the parking lot.  Instead of back tracking we decided to follow an older couple that seemed to be experienced telemark skiers onto what we thought was the ranger cut off.  The couple was attempting to ski to Bumpass Hell, an area of the park with the most volcanic activity.  Getting there requires taking a cut off trail up and over a mountain in order to avoid the avalanche prone area accessed by the road.  We followed them off the road and quickly passed them as it was much easier for us to climb the steep slopes in snowshoes.  As we continued on the hill got very steep and it felt like we were scaling a wall.  We decided to head back down and continue exploring along the road.  There was a bend up ahead with some expansive views so we agreed to go that far.

As soon as we crested the corner of the road we saw a sign for the ranger cut off trail!  Oy vey! Once again following others had lead us astray!  We decided to check out this trail and started climbing.  As you can imagine, since the cut off takes you up and over a mountain instead of around it, it was steep.  Ryan was struggling the higher we climbed so we decided to take a break in a cluster of trees for lunch.  There was no where to sit so we just sat down in the snow.  We started getting wet and cold and the longer I sat there the more I thought my fear of heights might cause me some anxiety on the descent.  We headed downward and to my surprise my fears stayed at bay.  Snowshoes (and snow) are awesome!

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After that we headed up to Ridge Lake.  Luckily, there were tons of tracks headed up this trail so we were confident we could find our way there.  Though previous experience should have taught us not to rely on old tracks.  The Ridge Lake trail rises 991 feet in 1 mile to a small alpine lake.  Everything we had conquered on day two was steep, but this was the steepest yet.  In some places the slopes we were walking up were 30-45% grade!  It was insane.  About two thirds of the way up it started snowing!  At first we were both excited and tried (for the most part unsuccesfully) to catch the snow flurries in our pictures.  After living in the desert for 8 years a few flurries are rather exciting.  As we continued on and looked behind us the skies were gray and visibility was deteriorating.  Ryan wondered if we should turn back in case the conditions got worse, I on the other hand found this as motivation to hike faster.  We only had a third of a mile to go.  Finally we made it to the lake, which didn’t look like much of a lake at all, just another expanse blanketed in snow.  Add another hazard to the list – wandering out onto thin ice!

On the way down there were a few tricky sections where we had to be careful due to the extreme slopes.  Luckily the snowshoes make it so much easier to handle steep terrain.  It was really tempting to sled down the hill on our butts, but we were too concerned about our snowshoes getting caught on something, resulting in a twisted ankle.  So down, down, down the mountain we hiked.  Once we reached the bottom it was one a short mile back to the visitor center – another epic day of snowshoeing in the books!  On the way back to our cabin we stopped at a local vineyard, Indian Peak Vineyards in Manton, for a little relaxation.   We enjoyed a free wine tasting with generous pours and a delicious taco bar, which even had vegetarian options!  The winery was in a barn and the owners hospitality and company of the other guests was great.  And we finally learned that it’s pronounced Lass-uh-n not Law-sen!