Upper Muley Twist Canyon

by Dave Baker Thursday, September 1st 2011

Talk to just about anyone who has walked the loop trail in Upper Muley Twist Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park, and they’ll be happy to rant and rave about just how great the hike is. Hard to argue; this is certainly one of the finest and most rewarding hikes I have ever been on.

Upper Muley Twist Canyon

In Upper Muley Twist Canyon

The route includes an elegant loop which alternately pokes along the canyon bottom and then traverses the soaring rim of the Waterpocket Fold high above. There is so much to take in: a beautiful and fascinating canyon, spectacular geology, a bunch of natural arches, scattered prehistoric Native American artifacts, eye-popping panoramic views, not to mention a unique and unforgettable name – “Muley Twist”, who came up with that?

Natural arch in Upper Muley Twist Canyon

One of several arches in Upper Muley Twist

Upper Muley Twist Canyon runs just under the rim of the magnificent 100 mile long Water Pocket Fold, a gigantic geologic feature that dominates most of Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah. The trailhead for the hike is near the crest of the Fold, just off the Burr Trail Road, a great back road which runs from the Notom-Bullfrog Road in Capitol Reef to the settlement of Boulder on Utah’s highway 12.

About a mile west of the exhilarating Burr Trail Road switchbacks, turn north onto the Strike Valley Overlook Road. Passenger cars can navigate this dirt track for about 0.4 miles before it drops steeply into the bed of Upper Muley Twist Canyon. Four wheeled vehicles are needed to drive the next 2.5 miles to a small parking area at the base of the Strike Valley Overlook Trail.

Wingate sandstone in Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Wildly eroded Wingate sandstone

From the 4WD parking area, wander up the bed of Upper Muley Twist for about 1.8 miles. On the west wall of the canyon you will see Saddle Arch, and you may notice a metal sign on the east side of the wash which marks one end of the rim trail and the closing point for the big loop.

Two more miles up the bed of the canyon be alert for a bypass route marked with rock cairns leaving the wash on its east side. With this bypass, hikers avoid a narrow slot a short distance further up the canyon bottom. The cairn marked path continues up canyon until the narrows below are passed, and then drops back into the wash briefly. Not too far past the top of the narrows, watch for cairns marking the climb out of the bottom, up the east side of the canyon to the rim trail on the very crest of the Waterpocket Fold.

On the rim of the Waterpocket Fold

Walking the crest of Waterpocket Fold

Rock cairns mark the faint rim trail; follow the rim and cairns south for about 3 miles to a metal sign which marks the beginning of the descent westward to the bottom of Upper Muley Twist and the end of the loop.

Season: Fall and spring offer the best chances for pleasant outings. This area is hot in the summer and catches snow in the winter.

Water: Usually scarce; bring plenty of your own.

Note: Overnight backpacking requires a backcountry permit.

Difficulty: Moderately difficult. Those in passenger cars will park about 0.4 miles after turning off the Burr Trail Road onto the Strike Valley Overlook Road. The round trip distance from here is about 14.5 miles. Four wheel drive vehicles (and sometimes high clearance two wheel drive depending upon current conditions) can reach a parking area at the base of the Strike Valley Overlook Trail, which reduces the round trip mileage to about 9.5 miles. Elevation gain on the hike is 800 feet or so. The trail is more of a social trail than a constructed one; it pays to be watchful for the many rock cairns marking the route, especially on the rim portion of the trail.



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Trails | Trips

Osprey Talon 22 Pack

by Jonathan Tuesday, August 16th 2011

One of the great things about commuting, or running errands, on a bicycle is that you can do those things while outdoors (sorry, driving a car is on the “in” side of the doors)!

The downside of cycling is that carrying all your stuff with you can be problematic, particularly in light of the fact that when you stop you must take it all with you.

Panniers, saddle bags, and handle bar bags are by far the best way to carry stuff. If, however, you are getting on and off almost as much as you are riding, the dismounting and remounting of these bags becomes quite tedious, and everywhere you go you look like a cyclist who just ran away from home.

Putting your stuff in a day pack and wearing it solves these problems. It automatically comes with you when you dismount, and everywhere you go you look like everyone else with a day pack.

While a pack will never match the efficiency and comfort of panniers, you can mitigate the packs shortcomings in two ways - keep the weight low, and get a superb pack.

First, mount your lock on the frame, this will save weight, and you will not be taking your lock with you anyway. Second, do not get a large pack, too much capacity encourages too much weight. Consider an upper limit of around 1800 cubic inches (30 liters).

Talon 22

My favorite pack for this application is the Osprey Talon 22 (22 liters or 1350 cubic inches). It is quite light in its own right, and unless you fill it with bricks its capacity will keep you within a reasonable weight range. Innovative features include a bladder sleeve outside the main body of the pack, and an outside pouch for overflow or quick access.

Water Bladder SleeveOutside Pouch

Bike-specific features include a tab for a tail light, and a retainer for fixing the helmet to the pack - this is a delight when you really want the helmet out of the way.

Bike Helmet ClipTail Light Tab

The pack comes in two sizes, both of which are widely adjustable. It is constructed in such a way as to support the load while remaining flexible enough to move with your body. Compression straps stabilize the load when the pack is not filled to capacity.

All these features make the Talon 22 a superb pack for the bike. They also make the pack superb on the trail. This double-duty feature may be the best of all.


Mount Rainier: Part Two

by Emily Thursday, August 4th 2011

Finally the day came. After three months of intense training and intense worrying, I was on a plane flying over the peak that I hoped to stand on top of. And then I was on a van driving through thick pine forests scarred by avalanche. In the parking lot we divvied up group gear and put on sunscreen, and as I rolled up my sleeves to get sunscreen on my shoulders, I struck a fake bodybuilding pose to explain to everyone the direction of the bathrooms. I was nicknamed "Guns" the rest of the trip. A short time later I was strapping a 50 pound pack on my back and 3 pound boots to my feet and hiking behind our head guide, crampons and snow shovel lashed to the back of his pack. I was the only girl and I was always in the front of the line.

Back home the desert was entering the driest 110-degree summer I'd seen since moving to Tucson, and so it was fascinating to see this old pine forest completely drenched with water. There was snow on the trail and meltwater surging down the ravine to a fast stream below us, gathering at the bases of trees. In flat spots in the valley below, water pooled with the pine needles. On the steeper slopes there were thin but fierce waterfalls only briefly slowed by rocks and downed trees. Every once in a while there was a break in the trees, with evidence of the slide that opened up the view, and we could look up to the glaciers and the jagged peak of Little Tahoma looming.

 Rainier part 2 pic 5   

Soon the dry ground disappeared altogether under snow as we made our way to Glacier Basin, a wide snowfield ringed with the last pines of the tree line. A few backcountry skiers were out, cutting wide loops down from the ridge line. We trudged halfway up the soft snowy Interglacier and stopped to put on Gore-Tex for our first mountaineering lesson: the self-arrest.

Rainier part 2 pic 2

The prospect that we might actually have to use this skill was terrifying to me. We practiced "tripping" sideways, backwards, and face first down the slope, stopping ourselves by digging ice axe and feet into the side of the mountain, a feat that usually required spinning or flipping around to get upright in the snow. I didn't want to know what this would feel like with full momentum on an actual slide, but I did want to know I could control my mind enough to stop myself. I tried not to think of whole rope teams sliding over an icy cliff edge into an abyss. It didn't help that they asked us to strap on avalanche beacons for the rest of the trip.

Camp Curtis, at 8,500 feet, looks back down into the forested Glacier Basin on your right and over a rocky pass into the white-tipped Cascades on your left. I want to live here. There is enough snow, I could build a little snow castle and watch the sun turn the walls blue and orange every morning. Camp Curtis itself is no more than a bench dug out of the snow on the side of the Interglacier. We smoothed out the snow and pitched tents as the guides went to work in the kitchen: they'd carved counter space at waist-height and a square cooler to hold water bottles. We had soup, and macaroni and cheese with sausage and veggies, and hot chocolate. It got cold quickly as the sun ducked behind the mountain, and we fell asleep with daylight still shining on the trail below.

The next morning we packed up camp, strapped on crampons, and learned to walk on the frozen snow. We split into two rope teams, tied in 30 feet apart from each other, and started a traverse of a steep mountainside into a basin under a crumbling rock face. Deep crevasses came into view, glowing blue on the mountainsides above us. As we stepped onto the Emmons Glacier, the physical space between us in the rope team led to a quieter, more introverted trek for each of us as we rest-stepped up the steepening slope. With my shins beginning to ache from the stiff plastic boots, I kept my eyes to the ground, planning each step to keep my feet as flat as possible. The instances I stole a glance up at the rock pinnacles above us or the vast folded landscape below became mental photographs that will stick in my mind, absolutely and forever.

Rainier part 2 pic 3

At Camp Schurman (9,450 feet) we built snow walls around our tents to duck from the wind. There was a ranger's cabin, and a good-natured ranger who checked in often with weather updates. Our forecast was not good. Raging winds up to 50-plus miles per hour, a freezing level dropping to 8,500 feet, and billowing clouds spelled a potential storm for our summit attempt. We ate dinner as we watched a wall of white cloud roll up quickly from the valley below. My shins had gone past the point of aching to pain so sharp and persistent I could barely walk to the outhouse. One of the guides chopped two pieces of foam out of my Ridge Rest pad which I taped to my shins and hoped for the best. We sipped water and crawled into sleeping bags by 5 p.m., hoping to be well rested if the mountain would let us up in the middle of the night.

The guides woke us at 1 a.m. with news of winds but no clouds. We began in the 3-foot spheres of light from our headlamps, a world so small that there was no mountain, just the wind and our crampons chopping through the frozen snow. I was roped behind our head guide, Eben, and I loved this man. He walked so slow. The first couple of hours was a meditation in the dark, the sound of kicking measured steps in the slope and the singular thought of going up, up, up.

The sunrise seemed to come quickly, like maybe we were so high up we saw it before anyone else. Suddenly our endeavor took shape: we could see our tiny orange tents far below, and look down on the tip of craggy Little Tahoma. We crossed a snow bridge and looked into the sculpted blue depths of the crevasse below. We stepped over a crack no more than a finger's width wide that was seemingly bottomless. And we kept going up, on slopes sometimes 45 degrees steep. The up was endless.

Rainier part 2 pic 4

Until we were right under the lip of the summit. Clouds boiled up the valleys, obscuring most of the terrain but for a few small glimpses. A steep push and we found ourselves standing on the rim of the huge caldera, the top of the volcano stoppered with snow and baring its ragged teeth. We ran around in the crater, sheltered from the wind and fueled by a couple of gulps of bourbon someone brought up in a Nalgene bottle. We could see Mount Adams poking his head above the clouds. I ran to the edge again to take pictures, got whipped by the wind, and promptly came back to the steam vent. Under a pile of rocks was an army canister with a green bound book and a few pens. I signed my name to a summit log which, once filled, will go on display in a museum with all the books that have been filled out by mountaineers since the first known ascent. I was so elated that when someone turned their camera to video mode, pointed it at me, and asked how I felt: I had nothing to say.

We turned out to face the Cascades as we stepped back down the mountain, and this was perhaps the most beautiful part. The steep slope seemed to drop off to nowhere, as if we were on the white pocketed face of the moon and about to step off into space, poised to land somewhere in the forests of Washington. Halfway down a cloud came up to meet us for a whiteout. I took photos, but it just looks like a blank screen. For just such an occasion, our guides had placed bright green wands with pink flags along our route, and as each one came into focus I could see what I'd missed in the dark: gaping cracks edging in from both sides of our route. Eben later told us that because of where the cracks had split in the glacier this year, the normally switchbacked and wandering Emmons route went straight up. Combined with the wind, it was the second hardest ascent he had done on Rainier. Out of sixty-four. Back at camp the guides cooked up pot roast and mashed potatoes, and sitting in the snow in a whiteout eating from a Nalgene mug with a plastic fork, this is the best dining experience I have ever had.

Rainier part 2 pic 1

On our last day we descended the Interglacier by glissading, which is an overly fancy word for sliding down on our butts. In the fashion of good amateurs, our water bottles and trekking poles went everywhere. It was a really good time. Like a good pro, our driver had a cooler full of beer for us when we made it back home.


Climbing Mount Rainier – Part One

by Emily Thursday, July 21st 2011

From March through June, climbing Mount Rainier was all I could think about. Now, a few weeks after my guided trip up the Emmons route, that amazing experience is still all I can think about. But this is the part where I'm relieved. For three months, I obsessed constantly. All my worries could be summed up with just one question: Is this enough? Am I training hard enough? Is my Gore-Tex light enough? Do I have enough trail snacks? Do they contain enough protein? Am I strong enough? Am I mentally tough enough? On and on. Any particular day or even hour where I felt I could be lacking in a given area was cause for a deep introspective temper tantrum over how this was surely a sign I would never make it up Mount Rainier. How my sweet and forgiving boyfriend could possibly stand me during this period, I have no idea. But sweetie, thank you. Thank you so, so much.

If you want to know what my trip was like, please feel free to skip to Part 2. For now, I'm directing my attentions to the prep work--the training and the gear--for those in the audience who have similar obsessive propensities but would be interested in undertaking a great endeavor for which there is much to worry about. Never fear: I made it to the summit. And it was wonderful. And really, you could stand to chill out a bit about the whole thing.

The well-meaning lady who organized our trip sent us each a handy training DVD outlining a 6 month program with mountaineering-specific exercises to do each week, such as walking on a treadmill with a heavy pack on. Or climbing a Stairmaster with a heavy pack on. Or hiking a steep trail with a heavy pack on. I didn't have 6 months, or a Stairmaster, or hours of time to spend on it with a heavy pack on. I had 3 months and a rough hour I could carve out of each day for training. I tossed the DVD. A growing number of studies on fitness are showing that short, super-intense workouts are as effective at training endurance as long endurance training is. The idea is that the more you train in an anaerobic state (meaning high heart rates and an inability of your cells to do the required work with oxygen: they switch to burning up ATP and give you the sensation that you should stop what you're doing right now or you might throw up) the higher your aerobic threshold goes, and the more work you can do with a lower heart rate. Something like that.

Conveniently, I was already training at a CrossFit gym and though I worried about whether the studies were right, I decided to join the experiment. I threw myself into CrossFit as fiercely as possible and crossed my fingers. A lot of people know by now what CrossFit is, but for those who don't: it's high intensity training of functional whole-body movements, like pull ups, push ups, jumping onto boxes, throwing medicine balls, swinging kettle bells, sprinting, rowing, and a slate of Olympic lifts like overhead squats, deadlifts, and the wonderfully named clean and jerk. Workouts are quick and everyone works out together in a class, adding a gentle edge of competition and enough pressure to make fitness slackers like me work harder. In short, there's a lot to do, workouts are generally 5 to 30 minutes, and it's really fun.

I started going to CrossFit Purgatory 3 and then 4 times a week (which is huge for me, a gumby girl who just six months ago thought yoga was everything) and supplementing that with stadium stair runs at the high school near my house and yoga on rest days to stay balanced and limber. When Logan and I went climbing, I took all the gear, draws, rope and water and slogged slowly up to the wall. I made him carry his own harness, helmet and shoes, though really I wanted to take those from him, too.

This regimen was potent work for my legs, and when it came time to trudge up 10,700 feet of glaciated mountain, my quads didn't even burn. Which is not to say it wasn't hard. It was hard. But I was ready. Pound for pound, my legs had already pushed more weight than that in four days of CrossFit workouts versus four days of hiking. High intensity training gets a big thumbs up.

Diet was really important for training too: namely getting enough protein at the right time. Workouts shred muscle tissues, and if complete proteins aren't available in your gut to start repairs, your body will take proteins from muscle, making you weaker. I religiously drank a smoothie with almond butter and whey protein within a half hour of every workout, and I increasingly felt stronger. Following the CrossFit method includes a Paleo diet, meaning focusing on meat and vegetables, with nuts, seeds, and some fruit. No grains, no dairy, no refined sugar. It helped me consistently eat a lot more protein, and while I wasn't strict about the no grains rule, staying mostly away from grains kept my blood sugar levels balanced, where before I would spike and crash throughout the day. I found Paleo trail snacks, too: for the trip I filled a stuff sack with buffalo jerky, dried mango, and Lara bars, which are just dried fruit and nuts. I also brought Bonk Breakers--peanut butter bars that aren't Paleo (since peanuts aren't really nuts) but are super delicious--and a trail mix with chocolate covered espresso beans. For summit day I packed a few Gus, which I really didn't want to use because they're all sugar, but on that tough sustained effort I ended up needing them: jerky wasn't going to cut it. On that effort we burned through sugar easily, and as one mountaineer advised me, proteins and fats take a lot to break down and pull a lot of blood into the gut, taking it away from everywhere else--which is not something you really want to do in an intense endurance activity at altitude. So for just one day, I was grateful for the sugar.

Do you know what else gets a big thumbs up? My gear. I couldn't give enough accolades to my gear. Like the women's Sajama pant from Mountain Hardwear. It's a stretchy synthetic pant that has the weight and abrasion resistance of a good canvas pant, but because it's synthetic it works infinitely better in wet conditions and variable weather. I wore them the whole trip and just layered Smartwool leggings under them for summit day. They didn't even get very dirty. When we had crampons on, which was three days out of the four, I wore Outdoor Research Verglas gaiters to keep from shredding my favorite pants, and that was really smart as I did in fact shred the gaiters with my crampons. Nothing that couldn't be patched with duct tape in the field. I only put Gore-Tex on over them once when we glissaded on the way down (more on that in Part 2).

 Rainier part 1 pic 3

On top I spent my time in a comfy Patagonia Active Mesh bra and an Icebreaker Tech T that somehow, at the end of the trip, smelled better after four days than the cotton t-shirt I'd worn just one day on my flight to Seattle. Wool is pretty amazing. I also had two wool long sleeve shirts, one of which I wore most of the time and an additional one I layered with for summit day. I brought my fancy Real Fleece Icebreaker hoody, which I absolutely adore, but really only found myself wearing in Ashford before the climb. The work of the climb kept me so warm in the baselayers and my Transition Jacket (best windproof multi-purpose light soft shell in the whole wide world, by the way) that I never put it on. The only other clothes I brought were a Minimalist Jacket in case of storms, rented Gore-Tex shell pants, and a rented insulated parka that I threw on at the breaks when we stopped moving and nearly froze in the wind.

And gloves. One of my favorite piece of gear, simple as they are, was a pair of Icebreaker liner gloves. They were super thin, so I could take off my puffy gloves and leave the liners on to do tasks that required dexterity, like tightening guy lines on the tent in crazy wind with ice all around. They dried super quick and when my hands sweated they kept them from getting cold. I relied on them so much that the seams on the index and thumb of one glove completely unravelled by the end of the trip, but I wore it anyway because having the fabric wrapped around my hands helped so much. And there was the wool Buff, a similarly thin layer that I pulled over my face, wrapped around my ears, and used in a variety of combinations to protect against wind burn. That was great, and stretchier than the synthetic Buffs; I could stretch it over my helmet. I had it around my head or neck the whole time.

Rainier part 1 pic 1

Then there were the boots. The only nice thing I can say about the boots is that they did indeed keep my feet warm the entire time, and for that I was grateful. But for the damage they did to my shins, I wanted to throw them out the window in front of a moving car on the way back. I got what's known to mountaineers as "boot bang," which feels about like kicking a steel plate with your shins on each step, for however many thousand steps it takes to climb Mount Rainier. It was so painful I cried privately when no one was looking, and limped up the mountain on my guides' and friends' generous doses of ibuprofen. (Ah, Vitamin I. The one thing I didn't bring that is an absolute must.) On summit day one of the guides cut pieces of my RidgeRest pad up to tape to my shins for an added cushion. It kind of worked, but mostly it didn't. At that point I'm pretty sure the damage had been done. I didn't, however, get any blisters--unlike my cohorts on the trip--and I think that's attributed to my Over-the-Calf Injinji toe socks. Dorky as they may be, like the liner gloves they kept my feet totally dry and wicked all the sweat from between my toes, where most people were getting monster blisters. On top of that I had a pair of heavy cushion Smartwool socks (so cushy!) and at night put on a fresh pair and laid the liners and climbing socks on my chest so my body heat would dry them out while I slept.

I slept on a simple RidgeRest pad, which was plenty warm and perfect for tossing on the snow to sit on while eating dinner. (It came in handy when I needed pads for my boots, too.) I'm pretty good at sleeping, and each day's effort made that pad feel pretty comfortable. I'd be hard pressed to recommend that people bring a blow-up pad, even though they're considerably more cushy; it was nice to be able to use the foam pad all around camp and not ever worry about it popping.

Please allow me one moment to give propers to the folks at Western Mountaineering, who literally sew bags one at a time, and fill it with the most puffy down known to man. I stayed so warm in that bag that my tent mates edged away from me, complaining I was hot to the touch. This is in a tent in a snow dugout at 9,450 feet on Mount Rainier in Washington. My ten degree bag was perfect, I didn't overheat and it only cost me two pounds of weight in my bag. Kind of makes me want to kiss the two people who constructed and filled my bag at Western Mountaineering. Come February 14th, I just may send them a valentine.

Rainier part 1 pic 2

Gear | Trips

The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!