Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fly-Hike-Fly: The Rincon Mountains Hike

On the flight to Atlanta the guy next to me was commenting that flying through Salt Lake City would have been much shorter. Well since this was a mileage run the extra long flights were on purpose. Now I'm a proud Delta Silver Medallion member. Was it worth it? Well,yeah! I got to go backpacking in the Rincon Mountains by Tucson, AZ.

I packed light. The only things I didn't take along on the hike where my iPod,sport shorts (for the hotel pool), a nylon laundry bag (in case the backpack needed to be checked) and a "man-purse". I used the extra bag to keep the backpack within the dimensions of the carry on. It worked well. The pack fit into the overhead compartments of the MD88 and the 757 without trouble. TSA didn't made a fuss about the camping gear either.

Driving to Summithut (an outdoor sports store) to get the camping fuel did take some time. There I also filled my water bladders. I decided to take six liters with me. On the way out I stopped at a grocery and got tortillas, two apples, two cucumbers to take along,and water to keep in the car. I also got a foot long sandwich at Subway. Next time I have to remember not just to skip the mayo and similar toppings off but also the wet vegetables (tomatoes, pickles, etc).

The drive out to the Miller Creek trailhead is a long one. Not just the interstate but also the 16 miles of gravel road. On it though you enter a pretty cool landscape. So even the drive was scenic. I finally got to the trailhead at 3pm. The hard part was then to repack everything into the backpack especially since it was late and I wanted to be on my way.

Drive to the Miller Creek Trail Head

Miller Creek Trail Head

First part of Miller Creek Trail

Right at the trailhead you have to go through a gate. It was the first one of many. The ascent along Miller Creek was nice as it took me past many big holders. A dark thunder cloud came which started to worry me a little. As the first few big droplets fell I stopped to put the camera away and put the rain cover on the pack. Surprisingly that was all that came down. Once I got to the Heartbreak Ridge trail my climb was done and the Happy Valley camp came up quite quickly. It was moved closer and I was expecting it to be at the old location.

At the Saguaro National Park border

View from the Miller Creek Trail

Heartbreak Ridge Trail to Happy Valley Saddle Camp

I checked out the campsites, three in total of which only two have bear lockers. The campsite furthest back was already taken. I looked in the other bear locker which looked like a pantry. People left peanut butter, beer, a whole pound of sugar (what's that for?) and other crap. I decided to go to the old camp site to see if there are bear lockers.  Nothing besides the old camp sign was left and it had a note "closed" on it.  So I went back and cleared out the bear locker and stuffed all the junk into a barrel nearby.

Happy Valley Camp

I had just enough time to setup camp before it got dark. I ate my soggy sub and then headed to the camp site with the two backpacks but no owner.  I was about to check their backcounty permit since I was a little worried about them since it was totally dark by now.  Just then the owners hiked in with flashlights.  They were a young teacher couple that just returned from Rincon Peak.  I retired at around 7pm.  A few big drops awoke me and I was expecting rain but again that was all that came down.

The next morning I broke down camp and stashed most of my belongings in the bear box.  I didn't feel like cooking so I just ate pop-tart and some snacks of breakfast.  Then I headed off to climb Rincon Peak.

Rincon calling

Rincon Peak Trail

Heartbreak Ridge and Happy Valley Saddle

The last 1/2 mile of the ascent is quite steep but the view from the peak is quite worth it.  Best view of the whole hike.  I ate a pack of tuna with tortillas up there while enjoying the scenery.  On my way back to Happy Valley camp I meet two guys that were hiking the Rincon as a dayhike.

Cactus enjoying the view from Rincon Peak


After getting my stuff and feeding the few but always active mosquitoes at Happy Valley camp I found that there was a toilet hidden on the north side of the camp.  It turned out that every camp had a toilet.

I was hoping that the Heartbreak Ridge Trail would continue through the nice forest vegetation but it soon started with a long incline that was mode miserable by the midday heat and sun.  That section had only low vegetation, probably due to a fire a while ago, and no shade.  That's where my misery for the day started. The view of Rincon Mountain, the Happy Valley and what I hiked in the morning was excellent though.  The little side excursion to the Happy Valley Lookout wasn't to rewarding as the view from there isn't great.  There is however a toilet behind the building.

Rincon Peak and Happy Valley

Heartbreak Ridge Trail

I continued on the Heartbreak Ridge train and went to Manning via part of the Fire Loop trail.  It seemed like I was going horrible slow since I didn't feel well.  I couldn't quite figure out why but it seemed to be an abdominal thing.  Short rests didn't seem to help much.  Because of that I didn't enjoy this stretch of the hike much.

Heartbreak Ridge Trail

You might get burned
when reaching for the sky


Near the Manning area, while hiking through the highest part of the trail (8200 feet), thunder clouds with cloud-to-cloud lightning was above me and I wondered when it would hit ground being so close to the clouds.  Again I was just being scared by thunderstorm but did not get any rain.  I meet a group families hiking from Manning to Spud Rock camp, dressed in rain gear.  Because I didn't feel well and wanted to get to my camp I kept the encounter short. It turned out that the ranger and her interns that came back from Spud Rock got hit by the rain.  I still can't believe that.

Fire Loop Trail

Strangely once I arrived at Manning I started to feel better quite quickly.  There I was the only camper besides the ranger and the interns. The sign-in box is quite unique with a deer skull complete with antlers and postcards with photos of the Manning family by the cabin.  Thanks to the ranger the toilets even had toilet paper and the one closest to the cabin had a bucket sink and soap.

Registration Book at Manning Camp

All staff at Manning has their own permanent tent structure  to sleep in.  The cabin has the kitchen and dining room.  They have a big bench press equipment although the intern girls ensured me that they weren't using it.  Apparently the interns hike to various springs with the ranger to monitor them.

Creek at Manning

Camp Site

Manning Cabin

I talked to the ranger about my options between taking the Heartbreak Ridge and Miller Creek trails back or the Turkey Creek trail and hike the four wheel drive road between the trailheads to the car. I decided on taking the Turkey Creek trail even though it was a couple miles longer and I'd hike the gravel road between the trail heads in the midday heat.  But it featured a steady decent and a new area of the Rincon Mountains.

Spud Rock

At Turkey Creek Trail

Neat Plant

Lower part of the Turkey Creek Trail

Hikers at the Logbook

On my way to Spud Rock the Ranger and interns caught up while I was taking a break.  I followed them to Spud Rock where our ways split.  Except for a slip, which planted my rear on some pokey plant, the decent was quite uneventful. I passed the families that camped at Spud Rock on the lower section of the Turkey Creek Trail.  They were heading home as well but had their SUV parked at the end of the four wheel drive road.

Turkey Creek Trail at the
Saguaro National Park border

Rincon Peak, Happy Valley Saddle and Heartbreak Ridge

Four-wheel-drive Road

The trickiest part of the hike was following the gravel road.  At one point an unmarked split came up and at first I took to wrong way.  So, when in doubt take the road with the gate.  Going toward Miller Creek trailhead I encountered three horses that were running up to me and looking at me expectantly.  I also noticed some horse slobber on my car once I got there.

Between the two trailheads

Free roaming horses

This ended my hike.  I drove back to the hotel, washed the car (rental companies don't like it when you take their cars on gravel roads) and my cloths, got dinner and retired.  The flight back was uneventful and provided me with plenty of time writing this blog entry on paper.

Wanderroute 1292925

Fly-Hike-Fly Notes


The apples, cucumbers, and Subway sandwich were a hit. I'm still packing too much food and too large portions. This is specially true with the oat-granola mix and milk-chocolate mix for breakfast.
The chicken (bag), mashed potatoes (plain flakes), Nido (whole milk powder), and vegetable (Just-Plain-Vegetables freeze dried mix) with pepper was a great dinner. Instead of just adding everything to hot water I might try to add the vegetables earlier so they rehydrate better.


The six liter water worked out great. It's just the right amount to hike to the Happy Valley camp, overnight, climb Rincon and hike to Manning. Although I actually only use up all of the four liters.
Water for filtering at Happy Valley isn't great. There were a couple of stagnant puddles that didn't look very inviting. Manning on the other hand has clear running water. The best place to get it is on the rock by the fence where the water comes out of the holding pond.

The gravity water filter worked great and fast. I used an old nylon sock as a prefilter when filling the bag to keep large derbies out. It worked great with running water as it had enough force to penetrate through the sock. But it might be different for still standing water.
Having a good water source like at Manning is nice. I ended up filtering six liters.


I took just the right amount of clothing. The only thing I didn't wear was the layer of long underwear and rain gear. But both are good to have along just in case.

I had no issues taking only one set of nylon long sleeved/legged hiking shirt and pants for the entire trip. After the hike I washed them out along with underwear and socks.
Besides the sock everything dries quite quickly. For drying don't wring your garmet. This causes stress and might damage the garment. I instead squeeze the water out of it. Hang it on the shower curtain rod for a little bit to let the water drip. Squeeze the garment from top downward, pressing the water out as it hangs. Lay the garment on a bath towel and roll both up. Gently wring the roll, causing the towel to absorb the water while protecting the garment from the wringing stress. The nylon garments should be dry in a couple of hours.

The seams on the REI Sahara pant came undone at the seams. Not yet to the point that it revealed anything but still having a brand new pair fail that quickly is disappointing. Otherwise the pants, just like the matching REI Sahara shirt, fits well and are comfortable and function well. The Tucson REI store offered to exchange them but my size wasn't in stock. I could have traded them for a different pair but the other nylon pants all have zip-off legs which I don't like.


As weird as it is, my cheap Swiss Gear external frame backpack from Sam's Club performed well. The extendible top allowed me to put everything inside the pack, protected from pokey plants along the trails. Though if I wanted I could use the straps on the pack to attach the tent, mat, or ice pick. It carries pretty well and I hardly noticed the difference when it was full or just lightly packed. I did notice some pilling on my nylon shirt due to the pack.


I just like trail runners. These Salomon have a few hikes behind them and are nearing their live expectancy. The next pair of shoes I'll get in a larger size as these are a bit tight. I forgot to tighten them well on the last day for the decent. This caused my toes to touch the front and get sore. For climbs and flats I like to wear them a little loose because they are tight.


I had a couple printouts of the National Park Service map. Multiple maps because printouts easily get destroyed. These are all you really need. All trails are pretty well maintained. Most even have red metal plates nailed to trees. Only at very few places one has to pay a little attention to where the trail is. I had my handheld GPS with me as well. Mostly to tell me the distance I hiked and for the novelty to look at the route I hiked afterwards. I did have GPS tracks of Miller Creek, Rincon Peak, and the Heartbreak trail but none of the Turkey trail. The free Topo map for the GPS was nice with the tracks.

Hiking Route

A one and a half day hike up to Happy Valley, camp there, hike Rincon Mountain and back via Miller Creek trail is a great route. During my miserable part on the second day I really wondered why I didn't do that. However, now that the misery is behind me I'm happy to have gone to Manning. That camp would be great for a base while going on the many trails around there.

Final Thoughts

No matter how lonely it is, you will get caught with your pants down.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Packing List

The packing list is still a work in progress.  I'll update this page as changes are done.  Last I weight the pack it was 25lbs most of the stuff but no water.  Water adds another 9 to 13 lbs depending on how much I need to take along.

I'm still pondering if I can just take the pack as a carry on on the flights.


Shelter and Sleep System
  • Tent (Tarptent Moment), with 4 sakes and window shrink wrap as ground sheet
  • Mattress (Therm-a-Rest Guidelite)
  • Sleeping Bag (The North Face Cat's Meow 20°F) in compression bag (Sea To Summit eVent 15 liter)

Cooking and Water
  • 1x Merino wool mid weight shirt
  • 1x Merino wool long underwear bottom
  • 2x Hiking socks with merino wool
  • 2x ExOfficio brief 
  • Rain gear
    • Rain pants
    • Rain jacket
  • Sleepwear
    •  Terramar silk long underwear top
    •  Terramar silk long underwear top
  • Wearing
    • Hiking socks with merino wool
    • ExOfficio brief
    • REI Sahara cargo pants
    • REI Sahara Tech Long-Sleeve Shirt
    • Salomon trail runners
    • Sun glasses
    • Hiking hat
    • Hiking neck protector
Essentials and Other Items
  • First aid & miscellaneous kit:
    • Band-Aids
    • 4 water treatment tablets (Micro Pur MP1)
    • Reflective tent line
    • 2 clothes pins
    • Large finger nail clipper (I won't have a knife due to the airplane flight)
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Small towel
  • Soap
  • Toilet paper
  • Electrical tape
  • Sun lotion
  • Lip balm (SPF 15)
  • Bug repellant
  • Energizer LED Headlight with lithium batteries
  • Batteries for GPS
  • GPS (Garmin Oregon 450)
  • DSL camera (Nikon D70) with extra battery, memory cards and mini tripod
  • Breakfast
    • 2x oats and granola with Nido whole milk powder and Nestle chocklate powder
  • Snacks & Lunch
    • 3x apple strudel pop tarts
    • trail mix mixed with edamane (soybeans) and dried fruit packed in three small ziplock baggies
    • 6x Laerbar (fig bars)
    • 6x granola bars
    • 3x small Ritz cracker packs
    • 1x small ziplock bag of butterkekse
    • Tuna (pouch) and tortias
    • 1x small bag of dried veggies
  • Dinner
    • Mountain House chilli mac with beef
    • Tuna (pouch), mashed potatoes (flakes with Nido), and dried mixed vegetables
    • Chicken (pouch) and broccoli rice

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Fly-Hike-Fly coming up

Because I'm crazy I'm going to fly to Tucson just for a hike in early October.  I'll be arriving at noon, stop by an outdoor store to get the necessities (mainly the camping fuel that I can't take on the plane) and be heading for the trail head for a two night hike.  After my hike I'll be spending the night at a hotel to wash up and fly back the next day.

I picket the Saguaro National Park / Rincon Mountains since I already hiked in the Tucson Mountains and the lower parts of Coronado National Forrest / Pusch Ridge Wilderness.  The biggest challenge will be water supply.  The campsites should have water available for treating but I have to verify that before heading out.  I certainly will need a water filtration system.  I'm eying some gravity flow solution.

I drafted a route but things could change depending on water availability, flash flooding (which are common there after strong rains and the trail head is on a gravel road that would get washed out), weather and how I feel at the moment.  You can follow along at ACME Mapper 2.0.

Day 1: Starting at Miller Creek trail head (marker A, elevation 4200ft) I'll be hiking up to the Happy Valley Saddle campground (marker B, elevation 6200ft).  Since I won't be starting till the afternoon I'll be camping here after the 5 mile hike.

Day 2: From the Happy Saddle campground I will ascent to the Rincon Peak (marker C, elevation 8482ft) and return the same way.  I'll be continuing north on the Heartbreak Ridge Trail and go west past Devil's Bathtub to the Manning camp (marker E, elevation 8,000ft) where I will spend the night after hiking 12.5 miles.
Initially I thought of hiking to Manning Camp via Rincon Creek, Manning Camp, Douglas Spring, and Cow Head Saddle trails.  But that takes me down into the valley, the Rincon Creek trail may be difficult to find, and I have a hunch that that part will not be as interesting as other options.  I also wouldn't be able to climb Rincon Peak which is supposed to be nice.

Day 3: The final day I make the run for the peaks.  From Manning camp I'll head north past Spud Rock to climb Mica Mountain (marker D, elevation 8664).  Then I will decent toward north east, looping south, passing Reef Rock and Man Head.  I'll be taking the Heartbreak Ridge and Miller Creek trails back to the car where I expect to arrive at sunset after hiking 14 miles.

The Saquaro Wilderness Area booklet has little more information about backpacking in the region.

The flight is booked.  Rental car and hotel are reserved.  I'll be sending in my camping permit application this weekend.  All I have left to worry about is the water filtration and then packing everything for the flight.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Little Kayaking Adventures

Ever since we took part of the DNR's intro to kayaking, while we stayed at the Honey Creek Resort on Rathbun lake in Iowa, did Oskar want to kayaking.  One night after sailing at Big Creek we rented kayaks from the marina and took them for a spin.  We got to check out some blue-green algae really close up.  These were the sit-on-top type that I don't care much for.

This weekend we rented rented two single and one tandem kayaks from ISU's recreational services.  Saturday we went to Brushy Creek state park.  The dammed lake is fairly new and has lot of dead trees in it.  That makes exploring the lake with kayaks that much more fun.  A drawback that the lake has is that the shore doesn't offer places to beach a kayak for lunch.  So we ended up eating it on the lake. 

Oskar kayaking on Brushy Creek lake

Heidi and Melissa kayaking on Brushy Creek lake

Lunch on Brushy Creek lake

Its amazing how well Oskar can handle the kayak by himself and how far he can paddle.  Heidi isn't bad either in the tandem.  She keeps a fairly steady rhythm so I could paddle along without colliding with her paddles.  Of course she's not very strong and doesn't contribute to the propulsion.  None the less, she knows how it works.

Melissa and Oskar kayaking on Brushy Creek lake

Hollow log in Brushy Creek lake

Heidi and Claus kayaking on Brushy Creek lake

Heidi pulling Oskar on shore lake

Brushy Creek is nice little lake.  The water was good and the algae/sea weed that grew only at the tips of the fingers were the good kind.  After kayaking we went to the sand beach and spend a while swimming, sun bathing and playing in the sand before heading home.

Sunday we took the kayaks out again on Ada Hayden Park here in town.  Again it was a nice day for kayaking and the kids had fun watching the fish.  Although they were a little mad about not having caught one with their hand.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seattle (Puget Sound) Tour - Day 2 & 3

I started riding at 9 am to ensure I had enough time to make today's section since I didn't know exactly how hilly the route is and how exhausting it will be riding the folding bike.  Neither the route nor the bike gave me trouble and I made good time.  I even added a small detour past South Whidbey Island State Park to ride a quieter road.  The total mileage for that day ended up 71 miles which included the ferry ride since I didn't turn of my GPS.  This certainly shows that the folding bike is up for the task.  In the beginning I was still hesitant riding on the shoulder.  Having fatter tires would certainly help improve my confidence and make the ride more comfortable.  I'm not sure if the NWT can handle fatties but the BikeFriday I was riding couldn't handle bigger tires.  I was also reminded the need of fenders.  While I was lucky and didn't had any rain, part of the day I was riding wet roads from recent heavy localized rain.  Water from the tires was spraying me and the panniers.  I tried to rig a mud flap but it was to difficult to keep it from swaying sideways.

Mud flap experiment

Since we are talking about the bike, I also learned that grip shifters are not for me.  At the end of the day my right thumb had a nasty tear on the inside fold of the lower joint which was caused from the constant shifting that was required with the hills (+/- ~300ft).  Due to that shifting hurt extremely on the next day and made the ride somewhat difficult.  Otherwise climbing the hills was not an issue and the gearing was overall great.  I did notice that I miss the top bar for quick stops to take photos.  Without the top bar you constantly have to hold the bike with one hand.

In the morning I passed through Port Gamble where there was a large civil war reenactment.  I watched a troop practicing marching and took a brief glance at their tents.

Civil war troop drill

Civil war camp

At the floating concrete bridge I saw a couple of see lions swimming in the water.  Apparently this is the longest floating bridge in salt water and third longest overall. The longest permanent one in the world is across Lake Washington in Seattle.

Hood Canal Bridge

The vegetation (black berries, burning nettles, flowers and slugs) reminded me of southern Germany although the trees are a bit taller.

One of many slugs

Creeping Buttercup

Half a house

One of the roads I rode

Airfield with yellow bushes

Colorful flowers

Just before Ports Townsend a nice packed-gravel trail started which, aside passed nicely along the shore.  Port Townsend is a quaint little town that I had to ride through before crossing on the ferry to Whidbey Island.  

Paper Mill near Port Townsend

Trail to Port Townsend

The folding bike on a pier in Port Townsend

On the ferry I overheard a youth talking to his mom about the three forts that are located here.  I inquired about them and he proudly told me about the forts and what a waste of money they were.  The fort were build to protect Puget Sound but were obsolete as soon as construction was done.  The invention of airplanes made the forts vulnerable to air attacks.  This conversation caused me to make a short detour and visit Fort Casey.  I was especially excited because all forts in the Midwest are civil war forts.  So it was exciting to see one form a different time area.  The structure can't been seen from the see but on land it reminded me of some first person shooter games.  My kids would have loved the fort with all its little nooks and ladders.  Of course it would be a nightmare for their mom who would worry their child might fall off a wall.

Fort Casey as seen from the water

Fort Casey

Heavy gun at Fort Casey

Since I was doing quite well with time I spend about an hour on a quiet lonely pebble beach that had some beautiful drift wood. I also did a detour past South Whidbey Island State Park to in order to ride a nicer smaller road.

Beach on Whidbey Island

Not much else one can say. ;)

After eating a late lunch / early supper in Freeland I made my way to my overnight destination, an avid cycling couple that hosts cyclists through Warmshowers.  They have a quite nice and rustic cabin in the woods for their guest.  On the way I meet the couple as they were biking to a celebration at their local bike shop.  Later in the evening we sat together around the fire, had a small meal and were exchanging stories.

Guest cabin

The coolest outhouse with a view.

I said my goodbyes already in the evening as I got started to ride at 7 am the next morning.  After crossing the ferry from Clinton to Mukilteo it was payback time for the cool ride to the ferry on day one as I had to climb the longest hill on my ride.  Somehow my route planning to the Burke Gilman Trail wasn't the best as I road the 44th Avenue, a major four lane road that isn't setup for bikes.  Luckily it was Sunday morning so I had really little traffic.  Another bummer was that the north part of Burke Gilman Trail was closed due to construction but the southern part was a pleasure to ride.  The trail got me nearly to the Montlake bicycle shop, where I dropped off the bike and ended my trip.

Last view of Puget Sound from the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry

Me and the Bike Friday folding bike I was riding

Now some random photos from Seattle but not the bike ride itself:

Seattle and Mt. Rainer from the Space Needle

Monorail and Space Needle

Fremont Troll