Welcome to Our Blog!

To everyone who has told us for years to get a blog so that we could get rid of our giant mass emailing list, this site is dedicated to you. Please feel free to gloat at will. We think you’ll like the new format.

We have posted a handful of our favorite stories from over the years, and we have been adding new posts starting in 2013.  You can click on any photo to see it larger. There are slideshows embedded from Picasa. You can either play them through our blog, or click any of the photos and it will take you to that Picasa album.

Enjoy the stories and please leave a comment to let us know what you think! Please feel free to share the link to our blog, or ‘like’ your favorite posts on Facebook.

Thanks!

Chris and Michelle

(All photography on this site is property of Chris Holcomb unless otherwise noted.)

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A Perfect Backpacking Trip

‘Charlforsyth Canyon’, Utah
March 2013
By Chris Holcomb

 

 

First, take a look at this one if you haven’t already: http://www.enterprisingnomads.com/storm/

I think that God must have felt bad for dishing out such terrible weather during that storm in the Little Rockies two weeks before, that He decided that He would make this next trip as perfect as the previous one was brutal.

I joined up with one of my favorite people, Nicole, whom I met in Antarctica, and two of my new favorite people, her friends Charlie and John, who flew out from back East.  We had a perfect group, and laughed for days on end.  After less than five days, you would have thought we had all been friends for years.

We spent three days backpacking into a very impressive and convoluted canyon system.  John and Charlie had no idea what they were in for: “Where are we?  So, wait…  This is west of Denver, isn’t it?”.  I think their minds were blown on an hourly basis or so, and they were instant Utah converts.

Aside from a half-mile of developed trail, we navigated entirely by map and old cattle trails through a beautiful maze of rock with almost no information about the area.  We didn’t run into another soul.

At every possible step, the trip somehow managed to get progressively better and better.  A perfect basecamp, next to clear cold springs.  Nice petroglyphs.  Historic inscriptions.  An Anasazi ruin.  Perfect sunny windless days.  A great afternoon by Lake Powell.  We spent seven hours one day working our way deep into a sea of domes and canyons from base camp, via a long series of improbable passes and ramps.  About five different times, I thought we had hit the end of the road, but then I’d spot some new route that would take us exactly where we needed to go.

Everything was gratuitously perfect.  After three days, we couldn’t think of anything else left that could happen that could make life any better.  We half-expected a hot-air balloon in the shape of a unicorn to float to our camp and deposit a steaming hot tub with a five-course dinner.

In a finale of good luck during the hike out, Nicole found us a cowboy trail, starting from our camp, that routed us along a perfectly flat terrace, which allowed us to turn seven hours of boulder-hopping with a pack into a two hour scenic stroll back to the truck.

Before I drove back to St. George, to the end on as perfect a note as possible, I took the group to one of my favorite places, a well-hidden spot near the San Rafael Reef.  We rappelled ninety feet through a skylight (Charlie and John’s first rappel) into one of the coolest natural rooms I know of, part-cavern, part slot canyon.

I’ll stop gushing now.

 

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Climbing!

St. George, UT
March 2013
by Chris Holcomb

We’ve been climbing for two months, but we couldn’t get any photos until we had a group of three when Katie Pond came and visited us last week.

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Winter walks in Zion

Zion National Park, Utah
February 2013
By Chris Holcomb

No stories, just photos…

 

 

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Smith Fork

Near Bullfrog, Utah
February 2013
By Chris Holcomb

I will let the photos suffice for this solo walk…

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Storm

Near Bullfrog, Utah
February 2013
By Chris Holcomb

The truck is idling on the side of a lonely highway, tires resting on the loose sand next to the turnoff to Poison Springs Road.  Well, it’s hard to call it a ‘road’ per se.  Enough 4x4s have driven along the bottom of the wash between the walls that the biggest rocks and flood debris have been pushed aside. You can follow this makeshift road all the way to the Dirty Devil River, if you have any good reason for doing so. I need to explore this road for another trip in a couple weeks.

It’s February.  It looks like February.  It’s snowing in the mountains fifteen miles to the west.  The sky isn’t blue because the blue is covered by black clouds.  I put the sunglasses away, because otherwise the world is too dark.

Here’s the question.  It looks like full winter up in the mountains.  No surprise there.  But will we get snow down here?  Any more than a quick flurry and a dusting as thin as a coat of paint to cover the ripples of the low dunes and rock walls; the kind of snow that won’t even last until sunset?  The forecast says the storm probably won’t do much down this low, but it’s just me and this truck and a bad road, so I have to be sure.

This is dry, dry desert in a double rain shadow, where storms are more likely to mean wind than water.  The heater is cranked up in the cab, but you can’t hear it over the guitars and banjos and fiddles coming out of the speakers.  It’s too cold for flashfloods; the pipes can’t drain when they are frozen.

I shift into four-high, take one more look at the map, flip the trip odometer, and point the truck down Poison Springs Road.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

I can’t believe someone put a road here.  This shouldn’t work, but you really can drive down the bottom of this thing.  It’s not even that bad for a jeep road, at least not so far.  I need to make it at least ten miles.  If it’s passable that far, then we can come back in a few weeks and backpack in the rest of the way.  We’ll explore the slot canyon and beyond by walking old roads built by uranium miners.

More and more canyons feed in and the walls come up.  After Poison Springs, there’s a trickle of a creek.  I don’t know where the name comes from.  Some springs out here are laced with arsenic.  Maybe that’s the ‘poison’.  Others have enough magnesium dissolved in the water to give you the shits, the last thing you need if you’re dehydrated. There are all kinds of poisons.

I get out and check the longer stretches of mud for possible quicksand before driving across them.  So far so good.  The sky is clearing up.  I put my sunglasses back on.

But then there was ice.  When the creek tries to make it around this corner, it swings out of the sun and into the shade, and freezes up.  The road continues along tilted slabs, under a raised sheet of ice, for the next fifty yards.  Even if I broke up the ice with a shovel, there’s probably more of the same further down.  Almost an hour from the pavement, 7.3 miles down, this is end of the road in February.

The end of the road

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

The truck crawls over basketball sized rocks, and picks up speed on the long runs of smooth sand in Poison Springs Canyon.  They must have come individually, one at a time.  I didn’t even notice them until I couldn’t quite see.  A quick swipe of the windshield wipers.

Now the windshield is all wet again.  And again.  Looks like we might get a light rain out of this storm after all.  Actually, make that a little flurry of snow.  It’s falling to the tune of William Elliott Whitmore singing folksy blues through my speakers, with a voice that sounds like a hundred year old black Southern preacher.  Michelle and I have been going for walks lately with light snow settling onto our umbrellas in Zion.  The snow today is almost atmospheric, like those days in Zion.

Another song plays, then one more.

The weatherman was right.  We did get a dusting of snow.  What he didn’t say is that the dusting would happen in the first ten minutes, as a warm up, and then the dusting would disappear under all the fresh snow coming down on top of it.  It’s coming down hard.  It’s intimidating.  This isn’t desert snow, this is more like a winter storm in the Sierras, at least an inch every hour if it keeps up.  There are too many ice crystals in the air; it’s getting harder and harder to see.

The snow is still atmospheric, but not in a crackling-fire-in-the-hearth kind of way like before… more like a sprinting-towards-the-slowly-closing-door-before-you’re-trapped kind of way.

Bluegrass and adrenaline just don’t go together.  I need something heavy.  I crank up some Tool.  I hadn’t signed up to drive an unplowed jeep road in a blizzard.  There’s no way I’m spending the next few days down here until the snow melts.  That’s not happening.

The tracks in the wash are already gone.  I stop at a fork where two canyons come together, to decide which one is actually the road, which one I need to follow back.  The wind is thick with wet swirling snow that plasters itself against me; it seems to come more from the front than from above. Visibility is less than a quarter mile.

I take the wrong fork.

Within one song, I decide it just doesn’t look right.  Shit.  I turn around in the snow-covered cobbles and retrace my tracks, quickly.  I’m in no mood to waste time like this.  There are a lot more big side canyons further up the road that could be equally confusing.

The steep walls are now white, not orange.  I push the truck as fast as it will go, the music cranked, feeling like I’m in a video game.  Were there any steep slabs that I won’t be able to get back up in the snow?  I don’t think so.  Pretty sure.  But it wouldn’t take much.

I shoot up out of the canyon and emerge onto the good dirt road up on top.  It feels good.  I hit pavement in no time.  I wouldn’t want to try that again in an hour.  If I had taken a leisurely lunch or gone for a hike when I turned around, suckered by the clearing sky, there are no guarantees I would have made it out today.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

Free-range cattle mill around in the brush, just off the road, near camp.  On some of them, patchy blankets of snow over an inch thick sticks to their black and brown fur like Velcro.  Stoic cows, unfazed by all of this.  Cows don’t care.

A cold day to be a cow...

Then there’s me.  It’s getting dark.  I’m camped above the open desert in a forest of oaks on the side of Mt. Hillers, hoping the trees protect me from the wind.  Colder, but out of the wind, right?  No clouds to cover up the stars now.  It’s going to be a long night.

It goes something like this…

Shovel out the campsite (it was almost dry earlier this morning).  Whisk the four inches of powder from the table with a broom.  Set up the stove.  I smell gas.  The propane hose won’t screw all the way on.  Remove gloves to fix the stove.  The stove is fixed, but now my hands are frozen.  Make a fire.  This takes awhile.  Warm up hands.  Set up a chair and the kitchen.  And iPod speakers to keep me company.  Kick the water jugs until the outside layer of ice finally splinters into pieces.  Knock the ice out of the water jug cap.  Fill up a pot to start a quick dinner of –

A blast of wind rips through camp, knocking snow out of the trees.  Snow in the fire, sparks and smoke in my face, snow down my jacket.  Holding down the stove and the pot to keep them from blowing away.  Rush over to the music and clean the dry snow out of the speakers.  Try to stoke the fire.  Whisk off the table, and the chair, and the stove, and my jacket.  Not sure the water is ever going to boil.  Finally, everything is under control aga–

An even bigger gust of wind tears through camp.  Repeat most of the previous paragraph.  Whisk, whisk, whisk.  WhiskWhiskWhiskWhiskWhiskWhisk.  I think about those cattle, and briefly consider driving down the road to whisk them off.

I throw back the rest of my bottle of my porter, chewing the bits of ice before I swallow.  OK Newman.  It’s on now.

You remember Newman, don’t you?  Michelle and I have decided that Newman is the unofficial name of the desert wind, christened in honor of the annoying postman from the old Seinfeld show. Newman is no impartial force of nature: Newman is a dick.  He loves to push your buttons.  But Newman isn’t going to win tonight.

I open another beer and yell some things.  Show me what you’ve got, Newman!  Knock all that snow down.  Stop screwing around.  Enough of this ‘a little here, a little there crap’.  Get it done Newman!

He must have heard me.  Snow everywhere and in everything.  The cold doesn’t lightly brush against things.  It pushes against your body in waves, finding it’s way underneath the jackets, pressing the cold against you, grinding in that cold as deep it can go as if with the heel of a boot.  Windchill below zero.  Blowing thirty or forty.

Screw you Newman.  I’ve got down jackets and down pants.

And a whiskbroom. 

Another long burly gust.  I laugh out loud and tell Newman my favorite jokes about his sister, and take a long swig of beer.  I’m actually having a great time.

The fire is a lost cause.  I let Newman put it out for me.  Dinner gets cold so fast I wish I would have left the burner on and eaten straight from the pot.

I secure camp, and crawl into the camper shell for the night.  It feels good to climb out of all the winter layers.  The wind is distractingly loud and steadily rocks the truck.  The trees flex.  I hope none of them break off tonight.  But I am warm and dry and happy.  I fall asleep thinking about how much I love my camper shell.

The upside is that when all of this over, when the snow and mist and clouds clear out over the canyons, I bet it will be spectacular.

Clearing storm...

(It was.)

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Winter hikes in St. George

St. George, Utah
January/February 2013
By Chris Holcomb

Snow Canyon and Quail Creek are pretty nice this time of year…

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Hibernating Bat Surveys

Three caves in Arizona
February 2013
by Chris Holcomb

I joined up with Jut Wynne from Northern Arizona University again, this time with Nicholas Glover, to help conduct surveys for hibernating bats and cave-adapted arthropods that are new to science in three caves.  We also downloaded data off of a variety of instruments.

Thanks to Nicholas Glover, who was kind enough to share these great photos (below).  It was actually nice to let someone else play photographer on a trip for once.

Bat Surveys, copyright Nicholas Glover 2013

 

Bat Surveys, copyright Nicholas Glover 2013

 

Bat Surveys, copyright Nicholas Glover 2013

 

Bat Surveys, copyright Nicholas Glover 2013

 

Bat Surveys, copyright Nicholas Glover 2013

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Searching for New Caves

Secret Location, Nevada, USA
January 2013
By Chris Holcomb

I joined a group of awesome cavers – Greg, Bill and Tom – on a three day backpacking trip to look for some new cave entrances in a secret area that seemed promising.  Good company, cold nights and cold days, and no new cave discoveries, but a good trip nonetheless…

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My New Book!

Palm Desert, California

By Michelle Hazen

I’ve written three books, scribbled in tatty spiral-bound notebooks in spare moments along the trail, in the truck, at the crag. Last month, one of those books was published on Amazon!

Becoming Katelyn is a suspenseful coming of age novella about a girl in over her head.

You can read more about the book here, including an exclusive behind the scenes look at the making of Becoming Katelyn that explains the surprising role of cheap hotel rooms in Utah and discusses how my more life-threatening adventures contributed heavily to the writing of this novel. You can also read the alternate ending I wrote as a joke     here. You can buy a copy here.

 

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