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Bodies of missing hikers found in Alaska

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Copper Center, Alaska – National Park Service rangers recovered the bodies of two hikers who were swept away by a glacial river in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park on July 2. According to a Park Service release, identification by NPS law enforcement matches that of two backpackers that were last seen on June 22 when they were dropped off by an air taxi operator at the Sanford Glacier airstrip less than two miles from where the bodies were found.

The backpackers were identified as 62-year old Rochelle Renken and 62-year old Michael Huffman, both from Columbia, Missouri. The couple were experienced backpackers and Renken has been to Alaska several times in the past and had previous experience crossing Alaskan rivers. Positive identification is pending from the State Medical Examiner. The deaths appear to be accidental. No foul play is suspected.

After the hikers failed to make their airstrip pick-up at the Dadina River on June 27 and missed two pre-planned satellite phone calls with the air taxi service, the service notified the NPS. The NPS initiated an intensive aerial and ground search for the couple on June 27. By June 28 there were 27 people and five aircraft involved in the search for the missing couple. Late last week, search crews found footprints along the Sanford River where it emerges from the Sanford Glacier. The footprints were indicative of two people preparing for a river crossing.

Over the weekend search crews found two backpacks and other backpacking gear strewn along a seven mile stretch of the Sanford River downriver from the Sanford Glacier and the location of the footprints. Water levels in the Sanford River receded on Friday and Saturday leaving items stranded in dry channels along the river. Based on the evidence that was found by searchers, it appears that the couple attempted to cross the Sanford River near the toe of the glacier and were swept away by the powerful, glacial river.

The NPS reminds backpackers that river crossings are always dangerous and that rivers and streams that are sometimes passable become impassable, even for experts, after rain events or on sunny days with rapid glacial melt.

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Rain review

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Rainscape

 Some nights when the family is all cozy at home watching movies, it’s good to get out in the driving rain and walk the mile or so to the nearest corner shop for no other reason than to test out your gear.

My excuse for the torrential trek was to buy a milk and a two liter of Coke, but in reality I was just bored of sitting around the house. Anything to get out of the house. Go for a walk in a monsoon? Sure, as long as I can get out of the house

 

Rain selfie

 I strapped my Elk Mountain hiking boots to my feet, donned my lightweight Old Navy rain coat and slung my Swiss Gear Dash Pack. The load out wasn’t my first choice for inclement weather, but it what I figured I would likely be stuck with in a pinch on any random day.

The heavy rain transformed the streets into creeks, and the wind made the very air a whirlpool

Not long into the wall, I realized the raincoat was inadequate for the serious downpour, better suited for darting from cars to buildings and back. The boots held up well, and though the pants got wet, they were a poly-cotton ripstop that remained comfortable for the walk.

I made it to the store, and when I put my purchases in the pack I noticed there was standing water that had accumulated in the bottom, and I had to dump it out. The everyday carry items I keep in the bag fared well, except for two small boxes of raisins that were waterlogged. 

Since then I have bought a thicker raincoat and now keep a rain and dust cover to the backpack. For the next time I get bored during a rainstorm.

rain crossing

Thanksgiving walk

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 Greenbelt Lake was down a bit during my Thanksgiving Day walk. The edge had receded about 20 feet from the usual shoreline, so I took the opportunity to beach-comb and look for objects that would otherwise be underwater.

Here’s a chronological list of what I found :

— Evergreen with Christmas ornaments. Just inside the treeline.

— Beaver lodge built along the treeline and starting to expand into the lake.

— Plastic fishing bobber in the sand. Green and white sphere.

— Submerged golf ball. Titliest No. 1 with a single crack in the shell. It was halfway buried in the muck, and I used a stick to dig it out and roll it shore.

— Submerged domestic beer can. Too far into the water to tell if it was opened, unable to reach it with the stick.

— Submerged golf ball. Jack Nicklaus No. 4. Used the stick to roll it in. In bad shape, appears to have undergone some terraforming.

— Fishing thing. Short plastic spike surrounded by styrofoam with a spring on one end.

— Second beaver lodge. This one blocked the beach, so I had to go up into the forest and back around. Lots of gnawed sapling stumps jutting out of the ground like punji stakes.

— Thin sheet of ice floating on the lake’s southeast edge.

— Hockey stick shaft, minus the striking surface.

 

Trip Shot: Rocky Arbor State Park

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If this wasn’t surrounded by water and marsh, I’d be climbing it.

Sometimes life’s little obstacles can open new doors. Such was the case with Rocky Arbor State Park in Wisconsin.

For years I’ve wanted to visit Witch’s Gulch, a canyon off of the Wisconsin River in The Dells, and this year I put it on our itinerary as a quick morning hike before a day of touristy stuff. But as I sat in our hotel room the night before trying to find directions to the gulch, I discovered the old drive-up, hike-in route was no longer available, and the only way to access it was to book a private boat tour at the cost of $30 per person.

We hadn’t budgeted for this, and I’m not too fond of tours that put exploring on a schedule, so I looked around for something similar and came up with Rocky Arbor State Park.

Tucked off of Highway 12, the park is a 500-million-year-old sandstone gorge with a playground/picnic area, a campground and a one-mile hiking trail. The trail skirts a marsh and low bluffs — below the cliffs one way, then a small climb and it loops back around on top of the cliffs.

Along the lower trail, we came across an isolated chunk of rock that looked like it had wandered away from the cliffs and waded into the swamp. It sat alone, surrounded by water and mud, trees and saplings growing from it, and I couldn’t resist the urge to climb it. I charted out a course — jump over to the large log to avoid the muck, ascend the north face, only about a dozen feet of challenge, then the going would get easy — but decided the idea reeked of a “hold my beer and watch this” moment that would leave me at the top with no real way down. Imagining the park ranger rescue that would follow, I decided to keep hiking.

Admission is $5 per car for an hour, $11 for a full day or free with the purchase of a $28 state parks sticker ($38 for out of staters), which grants entry to other state parks.

Trip Shots: Cliff Dwellings

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IMG_0808 It’s a short uphill hike to the lower cliff dwellings of the Tonto National Monument located just outside Theodore Roosevelt Lake in Arizona.

Built in the 14th Century, the site is one of the last cliff dwellings of the Salado people in the Southwest. Sheltered in large cave overhang, the lower dwellings contain about a dozen rooms made of quartzite rocks bonded with adobe laster and accented with sycamore wood and saguaro cactus ribs.

Tonto National Monument also has an upper cliff dwellings site that is available only through guided tours with a reservation.

More  on the dwellings and their former residents can be found here.

Trip shot: Walking under waterfalls

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Middle North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Silver Falls State Park has 10 waterfalls tucked into a lush 9,000-acre rainforest in north central Oregon. Three of the more spectacular falls are accessible by car. South Falls, North Falls and Winter Falls all have their own designated parking lots. To get to the remaining seven, you have to hoof it down dirt trails, up hills, over creeks and past cliffs. Ten waterfalls in a seven-mile loop. The cool part: You get to walk behind some of them.

My 13-year-old son and I stuffed granola bars and rain gear into our hydration packs and took off counterclockwise down the path, keeping a good pace to be mindful of our non-hiking companions who planned to mill around the main South Falls complex with its lodge snack bar and gift shop (cool purchase: trail map on a micro fiber lens cloth). I handed my son an orienteering compass and the paper map so he could practice his navigation skills. To shave off two miles and three falls, we took a shortcut at Winter Falls. So, seven waterfalls in about five miles.

 

Drake Falls, apparently a 27-foot drop

The first one we came to was Winter, which was unimpressive at the time, only a slight trickle. It was summer, so perhaps Winter Falls is more of a winter waterfalls. From there we darted north, crossed the north fork of Silver Creek and followed it downstream to Middle North Falls. Again, this wasn’t at full flow but had more water falling compared to Winter. We took the side path behind the falls, taking in a little of the spray and ending up under a cave-like overhang on the other side.

Back on the main path, we passed Drake, Lower North and Double Falls, skirting some cliffs and a viewing deck. After crossing the north fork again and waiting out a short bottleneck of hikers (some in flipflops), we followed the creek for another mile before we made a miscalculation at the confluence with the south fork where the trail split.

On paper, the Maple Ridge Trail is only one mile, compared to the 1.3 mile west branch of the Canyon Trail, with both trails ending at the trailhead. Again considering the non-hiking folk who were into hour two of milling around, we opted for the shorter Maple route. Which turned out to be uphill, and uphill, and uphill some more. Switchback after switchback. Figuring in the time to make the elevation gain and the rest breaks, the Maple trail probably took as long as the longer Canyon trail, but the Canyon trail probably had a better view.

From there, the hike ended at the centerpiece South Falls, which also boasts a walking path underneath.

More on Silver Falls from Oregon State Parks.

 

FBI: Embezzlement suspect hid on Appalachian Trail

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Courtesy FBI

 In February 2009, James T. Hammes was called to his employer’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, to answer questions about a possible fraud scheme inside the company. A long-time, respected controller for a family-owned beverage bottling company, Hammes handled all his business division’s vendor accounts and payments.

During the interview, conducted by the FBI, Hammes repeatedly denied any knowledge of the fraud. But shortly after he left the company’s headquarters that day for his home in Lexington, Kentucky, the 46-year-old husband and father disappeared without a word.

More here.

Delayed

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It looks like the hiking pants I ordered won’t be arriving in time for the trip. 

Missing hiker

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Authorities are looking for a hiker who got separated from his group in the Grand Canyon. Here’s the latest from the National Park Service:

Hiker missing in western Grand Canyon

June 24, 2016

Grand Canyon, Ariz. – Floyd E. Roberts III of Treasure Island, Fla., remains missing in a remote area of western Grand Canyon. Responding rescue teams and resources to date include ground teams from Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Mohave County, Coconino County Search and Rescue, and aerial support from Mesa Verde Helitack Crew and aircraft. The search area covers over 10 square miles and is in an extremely remote, rugged area of the canyon. Transportation to the area takes several hours and has made rescue operations and communication a challenge.

Roberts is described as a 52 year old male, 170 lbs, 5’11” tall, brown/grey hair, brown eyes and was last seen wearing a red long-sleeved shirt, blue denim jeans, multi-colored mesh Nike Free sneakers, large blue Lowe Alpine Contour backpack, and white-rimmed sunglasses with orange lenses.

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Photos: Abandoned cement tumblers

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Some people call them junk in the woods, but for me the abandoned cement tumblers are pieces of history.

I marched the kids and two of their friends out to the site a few weeks ago as spring was fighting to take hold. The tumblers were a great place to take a break, have some snacks and let the kids climb around and jump from one to the other.

The slightly rusty cylinders are relics from the days when the nature preserve was gravel and sand pits for a cement operation. The pits have since become lakes, and trees and vegetation have reclaimed the land. 

 

Photo: Red Fungus

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Red fungus, (c) 2016 J.S. Reinitz

Red fungus, (c) 2016 J.S. Reinitz

Forget robins, scarlet elf cups are my favorite signs of spring. Blooming in the late winter or early spring, the fungus (Sarcoscypha coccinea) can usually be found hidden under overgrowth on rotting branches. The jury is out as far as edibility.

We found these a few weeks ago along one of our favorite trails.

Red fungus, (c) 2016 J.S. Reinitz

Red fungus, (c) 2016 J.S. Reinitz

Centennial bridge

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(c) 2016 J.S. Reinitz

(c) 2016 J.S. Reinitz

(c)2016 J.S. Reinitz

(c)2016 J.S. Reinitz

I noticed this during one of our snow hikes in February. Not far from the trailhead where we parked was an old bridge, and carved into its capstone was “1916.” The bridge was built as part of a rail line that used to cut through the forest (parts of this are still around). Today, the 100-year-old bridge serves a recreational trail.

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