Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Brigade!

So on New Years eve I was approached by Jake Olsen and invited to join an elite group of adventurers, The Brigade.  This league of explorers includes Jake, Jeff Treft, Tim Olsen, Tim Treft, Dylan Zitzer, and now me! The relationships in the group are as follows: Tim is my roommate, jake is (you guessed it!) his brother while Jeff is their cousin and Tim Treft is Jeff's dad, which makes him uncle to Jake and Tim. Dylan and Tim Olsen are best friends that used to cause all sorts of trouble growing up together in the town of Dillon, MT. And Again, I'm apart of them because I've had the honor of being an awesome roommate. Hehe... Okay so now that we're all good and confused, I can proceed with the story!
As I mentioned, it was New Years eve.  Jake and I were driving to Sugarhouse park to set up a proposal display for Tim, so he could wow is girlfriend into becoming his fiancee (GO TIM!!!)  Along the way, after directionless chit chat, Jake brought up the plan he and Jeff had come up with to backpack over two days in southern Utah. He filled my head with these visions of Anasazi ruins as far as the eye could see, lightly dusted in melting snow, exposing the red rock to the blue sky in an awe inspiring spectacle. How could I resist?  So I didn't even try, it was an instant affirmative. I had sealed my fate...

Within a few days a meeting was held to discuss the agenda and preparations.  We'd leave on Thursday, the thirteenth of January and come home on Saturday. The hike was eight miles one way and the personal account we'd found mentioned many ruins to behold, though not as far as the eye could see (oh well...)  By this time I was going out of my mind with excitement and it was still two weeks away, not to mention the fact that I wasn't a bit prepared for winter backpacking and had a huge to-do list before I'd even consider venturing out into the middle of nowhere. I began shopping around for everything I'd need. First was a pair of boots, I'd never done any winter backpacking so I'd just used tennis shoes up until this point. I had to get them quick so I could break them in, thus avoiding blisters, which limits my groaning, increasing my chances of the other two not killing me just to get some peace...  Then came food, which surprisingly is rather hard to decide on. As I stood in front of this aisle of freeze dried meals I came to a blank. I realized my mistake was that I didn't know how the meals tasted, plus I had no idea what I'd be hungry for two weeks from that moment, so I just stood, with a blank look on my face, eventually ending up in my truck with a whole bag of food, wondering how i'd ever decided. I also bought many more doodads and thingamajigs, but I've bored you enough and feel it's time to move on, so fast forward a few days, everything is purchased and I'm ready to go!

Thursday finally came and I was bouncing off the walls, I drove home from work as fast as my truck would take me (without having the cops stop me) and grabbed my stuff, I was good to go. Jake was driving so he picked me up and we went back to his house to say hello to his parents, they'd just drove in from montana and wanted to see his mug before heading out. After what seemed like an eternity we made one last stop at 7/11 to stock up on the goods, and hit the road. Jeff had stayed in Salt Lake after his classes were over so we could just grab him on the way and beat the storm quickly trying to overtake us and wreak havoc on our trip.  When we arrived at the Thai restaurant Jeff had chosen for shelter from the rain, it became clear why he chose this particular place.  Turns out the kid has a whole harem of waitresses all willing to wait on his every need, and as he left they all followed him to the door to see him off.  From the truck Jake and I could here, "Be safe Jeffwrie!" and, "Have fun Jeffwrie, I love you Jeffwrie!"  So of course we couldn't help but tease him for the next few minutes till something else came up. What I've now learned about Jeff is that he's a lady killer.  He truly knows how to play the game, and his harem was proof... So now all three of us were in the car and making fairly good time, off to Blanding!

As we sat in the truck swapping stories and listening to Jake's glorious playlist, we came to a snag in the road, crappy valley.  I'd been warned that if I didn't hold my breath through the entire valley, it's possible I may suck in the evil zoobie cooties, and no one wants zoobie cooties! So I made my bestest effort to inhale as little as possible till my lungs were on fire and i couldn't do it anymore.  Luckily I didn't come down with the sickness, a miracle which I attribute to good tunes and good times. Anywho, we made it through crappy valley and continued on into the cold dark expanse of highway 6, Jake kept his foot on the gas while I watched for deer, and Jeff guarded our back from zombies with an array of plants, he had quite the battle, with much gnashing of teeth, but he came off conquerer!  We were safe for the time being...

As we came to Price, Jake and I had a thirst for smoothies and quenched it by making a stop at the McDonalds, the food may suck, but the smoothies are excellent! At once, we again set out into the night,    ready for more road, and road we got, for another few hours.  Eventually we came to Blanding, which was the last town before our trailhead parking lot that would serve as home for the night. We stopped for fuel in what seemed like a ghost town (any small town would seem deserted that late at night in those temperatures.)  After a short dance party next to the fuel pump we jumped back in the truck and peeled out of town, much like you'd imagine Butch Cassidy exiting town, if he drove a truck that is...  At about this time I ate a piece of beef jerky that would prove to be one of the biggest challenges of my life. I have this weird problem where my throat doesn't always allow me to swallow the food I've inserted into my mouth. I know right now you're thinking, "that's called choking Paul, and it's easily corrected," but this is different.  I can still breath just fine, but the food gets lodged in and won't go in or out, it just sits there and makes life miserable by causing this indescribable pain. Usually I can use water to sort of pressure wash it down, but sometimes that doesn't work and the water wants to come back up.  Well this day, the jerky wasn't gonna lose the fight. I was sitting in the back seat and the other guys couldn't see me if i'd signaled to pull over, I had already taken a swig of water so I couldn't exactly speak with them about the issue, and I only had a few more seconds before some sort of big event (depending on my next decision) was about to happen. I looked at the window and realized my only chance to make the outcome slightly better than bad, was to roll it down and lean as far out as I could, then expel the agua and hope I'd beaten the beef.  I jumped to action and before the other guys knew what was going on, half my body was out the window, greeting the cold night air and frigid windchill, praying my head wouldn't be taken off by some unseen road sign and trying as hard as could to not get anything on the side of the truck, though it was only water so I don't know why I cared so much...  Unfortunately this process did nothing to dislodge the jerky, and I was left to explain my condition to the guys (who couldn't stop laughing) while blocking out the pain and continually repeating the process previously mentioned.  Finally after twenty minutes I was able to swallow it and go back to having a blast, just in time for the unpaved road that'd take us to the trailhead.

We made it to the parking area and found a few fresh inches of snow. We quickly set up the tent and climbed into our sleeping bags to stay warm and get a few hours of sleep before sunrise.  Almost immediately after we'd all calmed down and had gone silent, I could hear coyotes off in the distance, howling for some time, probably about how they'd seen three stupid kids pull up just to lay in the snow.   They probably had a thought about eating us too, but realized they'd catch whatever disease drove us out of our minds and caused us to camp in such horrible conditions. Either way, their howls were amazing!  I'd just finished reading a book about a guy that had studied wolves in the canadian wilderness.  He'd wrote about their calls to each other and how at the beginning he feared it, but after a few nights he came to love it, and I could totally understand his love for the howls at that moment.  Soon I was asleep, waking up quite often to warm up my feet and change positions, but enjoying my first night in a new place.

The sunrise came a bit sooner than expected, but it was a welcome sight.  The night before it had been cloudy and a small amount of snow was falling, but in the morning there was one tiny cloud in a sea of blue.  Even through the sides of the tent I could tell it was amazing, and it certainly helped for getting out of a warm sleeping bag.  Slowly we made it out of the tent to take in the view, and determine what the day had in store.  We had some hard boiled eggs and a few scraps of road trip goodies for breakfast. After packing the tent and our bags into our packs, locking the truck, and getting our trailhead picture, we began a short walk to the canyon rim.  The view was spectacular! I was completely surprised at the depth of the canyon.  I expected it to be a trail along a river that had a carved a valley a few hundred feet wide, much like Zion's canyon.  This was more of a giant scar on the earth, and did I mention it looked awesome?  So I spent a few minutes taking pictures while Jake and Jeff grew impatient about me holding them back, and then I hopped down to the path they'd discovered to descend the slick rock. (made more slick by the melting snow)  The going was slow, we had to take off our packs to get down most of the way, continually handing them off to the first guy down each level.  This quickly paid off because we were about to find our first prize.

After navigating the labyrinth of rock and ice, we stumbled upon an Anasazi ruin.  The ruin was tucked under a cliff and with the southern sun it was gleaming in the light.  We immediately ran to inspect the handiwork of the native owners.  There was a kiva, a granary and one other structure which I'm not completely sure of the purpose. It seemed a bit small to be a home, but what do I know?  Plus I'm betting they weren't six and a half foot ogres, like myself, so Maybe it was a house...  Anywho, the area was clearly one of the coolest places these feet have ever carried me to, and I was ecstatic to be there.  As my mind was trying to grasp the idea that someone eight hundred years ago had sat here and enjoyed life much as I was right now, Jake or Jeff (I don't remember which one, as stated, my mind was already on overload) looked up and noticed the petroglyphs right above our head!  There were hand prints everywhere, probably a set for each inhabitant, and a drawing of what looked like a moose, though I'm sure it was a set of mountains or something.  The art was high enough on the wall that I couldn't reach it, almost as if they knew it would have to be out of reach to survive any curious intruders, like me I guess...   While exploring the cliff side some more we witnessed a giant icicle fall from the ledge above us and come crashing down a few yards away.  That was a bit unnerving, especially when more icicles further down the canyon began to fall around the same time. The sun had melted them right to the point of fracture and we would have to hike through the danger zone to continue or expedition, not too fun.  We took a few more shots and left in a hurry, thinking the faster we could get past the projectile field, the better.  We developed a system to go one at a time while the others scanned the cliffside for any ice coming our way, using this plan made our passing go quickly and safely, and soon we were happily winding our way down the trail and on to more ruins.

After hiking for a little while, taking a few shots, and consulting the map once to gauge our progress, we felt we were making pretty good time and would easily make it to our proposed camp area by nightfall.  But when we stopped for lunch around two-thirty and had another look at the map, we realized we'd made a mistake looking at it the first time, and we were actually making horrible time.  The winter sun plus the high canyon walls meant the sun was already setting and we knew we'd never make it to our destination in time.  We decided to go until we could find a good camp spot and set everything up for the night, thus avoiding setting up a tent in the dark. (If boy scouts taught me anything, it was that stupid people set up camp in the dark)  Within a few minutes of being back on the trail, we'd found our spot, and it was perfect.  We hadn't seen a spot this great in the entire length of the canyon, and we were all happy to stop there.  It was a wide part of the river bed that had a cliff protecting us from the wind, and a sandy bottom, produced from erosion of the cliff wall, that provided a wonderful sleeping area.  There was dry wood everywhere that would be perfect to burn and afterwards we could bury the ash with ease, leaving no trace, as one would say...

So there we were, camp made up, wood split and stacked for a fire, and ready to do a little more exploring.  We began down the canyon again just to see what it would have been like to keep going and found a pool of unfrozen water, enough to filter even! This was great because we'd each packed in five liters when we didn't expect to find any water, we'd planned on conserving as much as possible, but now we could drink all we wanted and never run dry, very cool!  Jake had brought his filter so he pulled it out and went down to top off our bottles for the night while Jeff and I took a few more shots, documenting everything about camp.  We'd all been disheartened about not making it all the way down the canyon, but finding this site lifted our spirits.  Dark came quickly and we started the fire to keep warm and let the light entertain us.  Hunger was starting to make itself known to me so I pulled out one of my meals and prepared some boiling water to rehydrate the grub.  This meal was chicken a la king and it tasted great! I ate every bit of it and almost made another, but I decided trail mix would make a nice dessert course instead.  We did the typical campfire routine of swapping funny stories and playing with the fire, while looking up to check out the stars occasionally and soon the night was getting late.  We climbed into bed and called it a day.

Sleeping in the wild generally takes me a little while to get super comfortable and fall asleep, I end up listening to all the sounds outside and get fascinated.  This is generally fine, but on this trip there was one little problem, Jake... This kid can fall asleep within seconds and be snoring a minute later, and when I say asleep I mean dead to the world, a bear in hibernation, completely unaware of everything.  I couldn't get to sleep at all for the longest time because of him.  He never shut up, and we let him know in the morning, at which point he recounted the crazy dreams he'd had and how funny they were, by the end of the stories we were laughing too hard to be mad at him.  But for the moment I was ticked! But I did finally fall asleep and the next thing I knew, morning was knocking on the door.

As the sun was rising, it first hit the canyon wall across from us and made a wonderful photo op.  Jeff and I took advantage of this and got up pretty quickly, while the bear was still dreaming.  It was clear the day was going to awesome for hiking and this boosted morale through the roof.  We mulled around camp for a couple of hours, making breakfast, taking pictures, and slowly tearing down camp.  We let the fire burn itself out and buried the evidence, and we pulled our packs back on to leave.

We knew the trail and had a good idea about how long it'd take to get to the truck, but on our way up we tried a bit different path and found ourselves in a whole new predicament.  Jeff had scouted out the route and got stuck on a rock face, unable to go up or down, left to sit while Jake and I came up with a plan.  Eventually I found a way to get down and hike around the rock ridge and throw a rope down to him, then throw it down to Jake so he could ascend as well.  This bump in the road took quite a while to overcome, but when it was over we all had a good laugh about it.  We then stood back up and started our long walk again. The majority of the hike went pretty quickly and without incident. We stopped for a quick lunch, but then decided to make a push to get to the truck and go into town to eat, so we kept going.  Then we came back to the rogue icicle missile area. The difference was that today had been much warmer and we'd assumed they had all fallen. Plus the snow was melting so rapidly that there was now a steady stream running down the rock. We couldn't help but stop to take pictures, while Jake tried to take a cat nap (as if he was still tired!)  The pictures turned out great and I couldn't help but keep taking more.  Little did I know I was about to get a bit of a thrill... I was taking my last few shots when suddenly I heard a loud noise next to me, I thought Jake had thrown a rock at me, but when I looked over it all made sense.  An icicle had just plummeted down and landed less then ten feet away from me!  I'll be honest, by the time I realized it, the danger was gone and there was no time for adrenaline or anything, but it sure did jolt me to hurry myself up and get out of there!  So that was that, I got under a ledge where it was safe, put my pack back on, and continued up the trail.  We took one last look at the ruin and then made our way back to the canyon rim, where there was a frozen waterfall we'd checked out the day before, but now it was in better light and yet again, I had to take pictures.  I got a few and called it good. We hiked up and finished the last leg.  The truck came into view and I instantly wanted my skate shoes, ready to be done with hiking boots.  Soon I'd changed the shoes, as did the other two, we took our end of trip picture, and got out of there.

We ate dinner at the Subway in Blanding and then headed back out on the road. Jake was in the driver seat, I was co-pilot, and Jeff got in a good nap. In Moab we switched it up and I drove for a while till we again stopped in Price for a smoothie.  We passed through crappy valley all over again, still managing to avoid any zc's, and eventually made it home. The end of an epic trip.  While we didn't get to our exact destination, we got close, and we still had a blast getting there.

Now I'm officially apart of The Brigade crew, and life is that much more exciting.  We've already got another trip planned for the same area in ten days, and I couldn't be more impatient about it getting here. I pushed my limits and found out what I could do.  I'll continue to do this as long as I can, and hope The Brigade will be there too!


  1. Welcome aboard, PC. You've already proved yourself and we're glad to have you. And as far as me sleeping like a bear, you're just jealous I get epic sleep seshes while you and Jeff roll around in the shelter all night. tB 4eva.

  2. Haaa I resent the crappy valley bit but other than that this is a pretty awesome blog post. Your life is exciting. Way to go.