Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 11, 2012

Mt Peale 1, Rangers 0

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:06 pm
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Ranger Chris, determined, tries to skirt the snowfield.

(Continued from previous post)

The faint trail had already led us astray once, and now we were slowly picking our way over a vast field of downed tree trunks. Not an auspicious start to our ascent of the highest peak. For encouragement I glanced up at Mt Peale, which momentarily resembled Mt Doom. (I can do this, my heart tells me.)

Verdant meadows, a flowing spring, swarming mosquitoes and gnats, aspen groves, elk and coyote tracks… this was not the desert to which we are accustomed. We’re 5000 feet above our usual elevation and can feel it. Reaching tree line, an unstable talus slope is all that remains between us and the summit 1500 vertical feet above. A pika nearby seemed perfectly comfortable; the marmot loping up the ridge wasn’t winded. (I think I can do this, my heart tells me.)

This is the couloir that stopped us. Angle of repose for granite is 35-40 degrees, and it is steep and unstable.

Up, up, always up — lungs sucking air, I had to rest every little bit to let pulse and respirations normalize. A couple of guys passed us at the bottom of a steep couloir (chute) filled with snow and we watched carefully how they navigated the route. As they kicked their boot toes into the whiteness with each step, and dug in with their trekking poles for traction, Chris and I exchanged a glance; these conditions at 11,300 feet have caught us unprepared. Exploratory attempts on the couloir leave us shaking our heads. (I really wonder about doing this, my heart tells me.)

My hiking partner’s the safety officer at work, and he takes his duty seriously. We conferred. Without ice axes, there’s no way to arrest one’s slide if footing is lost; you’d end up at the bottom of the couloir crumpled around granite boulders. The mental image of a mangled body deters us; concluding that the wisest route was down instead of up, a postponement seemed the appropriate choice.

Mt Peale, you win this round — but August is coming. We’ll be back.

June 10, 2012

Mt Peale: 12,721

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:16 am
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Mt Peale: TALL. Ranger Kathryn: SMALL.
All I could think was, “I’m headed up THERE?!?!”

The highest peak in any range beckons to be summited, and Mt Peale in the La Sal Mountains is no exception. Standing watch over Moab, currently 99 degrees hot, it holds the promise of adventure — and pleasant temperatures. Ranger Chris and I head up the winding Forest Service road to camp at 10,000 feet, where my Prius seems out of place as we pass nothing but ATVs and 4WD vehicles. The eyes on the aspens watch the hybrid car, puzzled, as she demurely navigates a shallow stream crossing.

“Medicine Lakes,” the trailhead area, is a complete misnomer to this Minnesotan. Shallow puddles of water teeming with invertebrates are not lakes. That said, it IS scenic, and the alpine-y feeling of the place envelops us. We’re in a different ecosystem, a place of fresh wonder. Every flower is new.

Chris has climbed a number of fourteeners, but I already know from summiting South Mountain (11,798’) that high altitudes are tough on my lungs. Finding myself energized by the thought of pushing myself to try something I’ve not yet done, I thoughtfully ponder the worst that could happen. It can’t be that bad. Yes, I think I can do this.

Crackling campfire and deep conversation give way to restless sleep in which I dream of not being able to catch my breath. Was it the altitude, or could it have had anything to do with someone so dashingly handsome sleeping respectfully a foot away from me?

~ to be continued ~

June 6, 2012

Paddling to Mineral Bottom

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:50 am
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We’ve been paddling for half hour. Wind is rising.
This stretch is so beautiful, it should be added to Canyonlands NP.

(Continued from Adrift on the Green River)

Well before dawn, Bill and I awoke to the earliest light; must’ve been just after five. High winds were expected and we wished to get as far as possible before they arrived with sustained 35-mph force and gusts to 50. That meant hopping into the duckies half hour before sunrise and heading downriver.

Eerily, in that canyon I could hear the swooshing of the air currents before I could feel them. It sounded like moving water, without rapids there; all I could infer was that the front was moving in and would be pushing us around. A large bend in the Green River carried me into the plucky up-river breezes that soon became far bigger than I’d hoped. The current barely moved fast enough to carry me downstream without my having to paddle forcefully. This is a far better workout than going to the gym; you know you won’t see your truck again if you don’t push hard and make headway. Motivation is not a problem.

A stop at the mouth of Hell Roaring Canyon revealed an exciting 19th-century inscription from the earliest fur trapper to pass this way. Denis Julien left his name on a number of rocks in the southwest; we know little about him. Still, I stood in the same spot he did, in the same month he did, 172 years later; all the wonders he saw, and the obstacles he overcame, filled my willing thoughts. No inflatable duckie, Clif bars, or Camelbak water carrier for him; Denis did it the hard way. Check out his boat to the right of his name.

Our bittersweet arrival at the Mineral Bottom boat launch signaled the end of a too-short river adventure. I can’t wait for the next one. In my dreams, 21 days floating the Grand Canyon…

November 10, 2011

Cataract Canyon 3: Doll House

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:12 am
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The Doll House before an oncoming storm. Maze District, Canyonlands NP, Utah.

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 2: Flatwater Beauty)

After a productive day tracking radio-collared bighorn sheep and successfully collecting pellets for DNA study, the clouds began assembling to the west and a chill wind picked up. My boat-mates conferred about the most protected campsite downriver and we motored to Spanish Bottom, a couple of miles south of the Confluence. As we rounded a bend in the river, a jagged row of delicate rock pillars high on a cliff poked into the graying sky. I looked questioningly at Bill. “The Doll House,” he informed. Indeed, one could imagine a young giant in the Maze District of Canyonlands playing with these dolls of stone. I was entranced.

My appetite is whetted for tomorrow's adventures.

Our campsite was thick with invasive tamarisk trees which I don’t ordinarily enjoy; at this hour the pesky plants took on the benevolent appearance of a protective shield against the oncoming weather. Anchoring and putting up tents as quickly as possible, we got our rain gear on and suppers heated just in the nick of time. Miso soup never tasted so good. A cup of blueberry tea doubled the inner warmth. Dark — and sleep — came quickly, with only intermittent spurts of rain through the night. The peculiar squeak of branch rubbing against branch, rare in a desert, intruded on my dreams.

— Continued at this link

May 1, 2011

A day in the life of…

My daily commute. Probably prettier than 99.7% of commutes in America.

It was one of ‘those’ days. The typically clear sky was dappled with lots of cumulus clouds, which made the grand sandstone features of Courthouse Wash sparkle with light and shadow. My task was to hike up the wash and look for any hints of nesting raptors. Clues that would tip me off would be finding fresh whitewash on the cliff wall, seeing raptors enter or exit a potential nest site, or finding a pair exhibiting courtship behaviors. If I found them on the wing, I’d patiently sit and wait and try to spy on them at their perches.

The perfect temps were accompanied by the gusty April winds that whip around the canyons, picking up sand and tumbleweeds, making me shut my eyes when a blast hit. I had a map and a GPS in my pack, and began to wander in a westerly direction to see what I could see. A group of canyoneers tromped by, looking for Ring Arch. They’d be the only people I would see all day.

Swifts and swallows chased insects overhead, and to my delight I could tell the two species of aerial acrobats apart in the mixed group. I wandered farther from my truck; a Spotted Towhee warbled at me from the low branches of a dead shrub. A mile more; I stopped to put on sunscreen, and a Say’s Phoebe started in on his sad song. Up the wash I went, trying to avoid having to bushwhack through nearly-impenetrable tamarisk and sage.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught a familiar movement. A small raptor was flying quickly toward a dead juniper, and took up residence at its top. My binocs told me it was an American Kestrel, our smallest falcon, and it looked as if it would sit a while; I set up my spotting scope to study it.

This female perched and preened, and over fifteen minutes did a 360-degree pirouette for me so I could see every side of her in detail. Her bold face pattern amused me, as did her habit of bobbing her tail incessantly. And then she dashed noisily to another perch close to the cliff, whining intensely for many minutes.

A bright male flew in and sat atop a nearby tree, listening to her vocalizing but doing nothing. Soon the female dashed into a hole in the cliff, the edge of which was covered with fresh whitewash. She led me directly to her nest! Patience pays off! I fixed the point on my GPS and spied on them for a while longer.

Thanksgiving fills my heart for the privilege I have every day to witness goings-on in the natural world that I’ve missed for years. There is no plot to today’s post; it’s a Zen-like bird’s-eye view of “a day in the life of Arches wildlife intern Kathryn Burke.” I just let you tag along with me today. Thanks for your company.

April 11, 2011

Personal Locator Beacons

Fishing for a signal with the PLB receiver

We climbed the only high sand hill nearby and held the signal receiver up, hoping desperately to catch even the faintest audible or LED input as to where our lost person might be. Its antennae were silent. Was it a battery issue in the transmitter? Was the high wind and cubic tons of sand in the air distorting the signal? Or were we just too far away?

18 Search & Rescue trainees from the park service and the local county were practicing finding someone using a PLB — Personal Locator Beacon. The increasing popularity of these devices requires that we know how to conduct a search if a distress call comes. Instructions on my government-issued PLB say that it is my last resort only… not if night is falling and I’m scared, but if life or limb are threatened.

Not a bank robbery. Needed kerchiefs to keep sand out of nose/mouth.

Last year in Canyonlands NP one of these PLBs had 52 activations (!!!) in a short time span — surely suggesting a major emergency requiring heroic rescue efforts. It was nightfall and the location was down on the White Rim, 1000 steep feet and many 4WD miles below the mesa, where jeepers and mountain bikers can get away from it all. A helicopter was summoned and night vision technology was used to locate the man. His life-threatening “emergency”? Burned-out clutch on his motorcycle.

PLBs have become the “yuppie 911.” Rescuers who risk their lives and limbs are not amused.

Found a dinosaur bone at training! Click to enlarge.

Nothing tops the party hiking in the Grand Canyon who activated their beacon three (3) separate times in three days for such emergencies as “drinking water tasted funny,” “running low on water,” “heard a scary sound.” They were physically removed from the Canyon after the third abuse. Unnecessarily mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues should disqualify you from ever being allowed to own or carry a PLB.

Grand County, UT, charges $500 to rescue people. Arches National Park currently charges nothing. Do you think PLB abusers should be charged for their rescue, in any location? Should legitimate victims be charged? What deterrent can you think of to keep people from pushing the panic button for idiotic reasons?

April 6, 2011

“Confident and with purpose”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:38 pm
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The top of Double O Arch, Arches National Park

I was striding up a wash with my boss just behind me this morning, somewhere between points D3 and D4 in our first Breeding Bird Census. Tricia announced, “I have a name for today’s blog post.” This, of course, made me extremely curious and I begged to know what it should be. “Confident and with purpose,” came the reply. A smile crossed my face on this seventh day of work. I was walking like someone who had a sense of what she was about, which was a significant change from last week’s fear and trembling about losing my way and being humiliated at having to be ‘found’ by my law enforcement colleagues.

Maybe it was the two-in-one-day “You’ve got to believe in yourself” admonitions I got. Maybe it was my increasing comfort with maps, GPS, and landmarks. Maybe it was just time for me to set aside my doubts and decide that I can do this. Regardless, today was a confidence-builder.

April 5, 2011

Heart check

I was walking up Winter Camp Wash with another volunteer to look for old and new raptor nests. This is a drainage system below the most famous arch of all, and I had never seen Delicate Arch from this angle before. Camera ever ready, I tried to get all artsy-fartsy and blur the arch while focusing on the foreground plants, but I didn’t quite have the know-how to compose it properly. Still, it was fun.

This was one of those mornings when I pinched myself. “I get to do what? Hike into remote corners of this park and look for birds? Be immersed in nature? Perform data collection that will improve wildlife policies? Hear the peregrine falcon’s cry? Peer through good binoculars? Feel the sun and breezes on my face as I am surrounded by gorgeous red rocks? Watch Great Blue Herons in love?”

Springtime: my favorite season. Its cyclical representation of new beginnings brings hope and joy. When I see Red-tailed Hawks courting, or Great Blue Herons choosing their rookery spot together, a small twinge of wistfulness creeps in as I recall what it was like to share life with someone who adored me and would bring me my heart’s equivalent of the perfect twig for my nest. It’s healthy that I acknowledge the tiniest molecule of melancholy before I count the fathomless blessings of my very happy life.

You know, if love is not on the scene, I’ll take the second-best thing: dark chocolate.

April 3, 2011

Protected petroglyphs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:36 am
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While it looks like a family portrait, the headdresses identify these people as shamans

My binoculars showed telltale footprints below, and I selected an off-trail route I thought would get me to them. I’d been trying to find these petroglyphs for two seasons already. Upon my successful arrival at these multiple panels of glyphs, I was met with a most entertaining sign congratulating me on my accomplishment, and a place to register my name. No maps mark the site as it would be defaced with graffiti if it were made public. They are in wonderful shape, as a result, and pure joy to look at. I promise I won’t make TOO many posts about rock art, but if you’re a regular reader you know my fascination with it.

The following day’s hike took me up to Hidden Valley, in the rimrocks surrounding Moab. The reward at the end of the trek is hundreds of yards’ worth of sandstone with petroglyphs of all kinds covering them in multiple sites. It just keeps going on and on, luring one farther from one’s vehicle in the hopes of finding just one more. Good thing I didn’t have my camera or you would have been subjected to more than you could handle.

Animals are a dominant theme -- especially ungulates

A successful hunt was commemorated -- or wished for

April 1, 2011

Predominantly right-brained

Yesterday my heart was in my throat. Tricia and I were out in the boondocks monitoring nests and she asked me how I would find my way back to the truck without a GPS. I waved in a general southerly direction and said, “It feels as if it is that-a-way, but I don’t recall how we came or over what terrain we traversed.” With a sinking feeling, I realized that “that-a-way” is utterly inadequate. My very poor memory did not register many landmarks on our way in, so trying to remember them in reverse to get out was not going to work too well.

Welcome to my brain.

Tricia wisely had me take the lead and try to work my way the mile and a half (as the raven flies) back to our truck. There are all manner of washes, ridges, seams, ravines, etc., so nothing in the desert is ever in a straight line… like a GPS shows. One also cannot walk in a straight line because of the fragile biological soil crust which must be avoided.

Let’s say that it took a collaborative effort to get us back to the truck, even though I was in front. You may ask anyone who has ever driven or hiked with me: I need explicit directions, always, to anywhere. Navigation is NOT my forte’. Navigation skills happen in the left brain, and I live in my right brain. For a fleeting moment in the backcountry, I asked myself whether my boss had hired the right person for this job; I was THAT stressed out about my lack of skills.

Perhaps this is what it feels like to have a learning disability — “Everybody else can do it, so why can’t I?!?” Has that ever been your experience, in any area?

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