Backpacking The Little Grand Canyon – San Rafael Swell, Utah

The Little Grand Canyon is an amazing overnight backpacking trip that is perfect for people looking for a fairly easy trip that wanders through one of Utah’s best scenes. The San Rafael River starting from Fuller Bottom is a popular spot for boaters to put in and typically do a single day float of the river, but we’re going to talk about backpacking the canyon in this post.

Below you’ll find some quick info on the best season to hike this, distance, and other important sources. Then you’ll read further to see a Day 1 and Day 2 explanation of the hike and what you can expect during your hike.

Season: Best done in early to late spring, and early fall. Avoid going June through August as temps are extreme and the river may be flowing at a rate that would be unsafe to ford.
Mileage/Time: Total miles to hike from the Fuller Bottom trailhead to the trailhead near the Swinging Bridge is 15.25 miles. You will split this in two, with day one being 7 miles or so, and day two being about 8 miles.
Where To Camp: Your best option for camping is at the mouth of Virgin Spring Canyon, located 7 miles from the Fuller Bottom trailhead. You’ll have to ford the river to get into Virgin Canyon, but there are two or three great, flat, established camp spots, big enough for groups of 6-8 people.
Waste Disposal: The Little Grand Canyon is located on BLM Land and does not have restrictions on human waste disposal. But please practice Leave No Trace principles and dig cat holes, carry out your toilet paper, and do your business 200 feet from any water source.
Water Availability: You can always filter water from the San Rafael as needed. It is typically murky water and will quickly plug up any filter. Your best water source is located at the end of Virgin Spring Canyon, where you’ll find a large pool and fresh water. Be sure as always to use a filter or chemical drops to treat the water. Cattle typically graze in these canyons or Utah.
Shuttle: Most people do this hike from point A to point B. Point A being Fuller Bottom, and then finishing at the trailhead below Swinging Bridge at the mouth of Buckhorn Wash. You will need to plan to leave a car at the Swinging Bridge Trailhead, then shuttle up to Fuller Bottom.

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Route Description:

Day 1: Plan to hike 7 miles this day to make it to Virgin Spring Canyon, so an early start is good to make sure you get the shuttle taken care of before you begin your hike. The Nat Geo Trails Illustrated map is not totally correct as far as where it shows the Fuller Bottom Trailhead. See rest of description for info.

Begin your hike at the small parking lot on your left where the Fuller Bottom road approaches the San Rafael River. There is a trail register box there tat is used by hikers and boaters. Reset your GPS and start walking down the jeep road. You will cross the river after about a 1/4 mile, make sure you stay on the Jeep road as it will allow you to avoid bushwhacking through tamarisk and following cow trails.

Follow the Jeep road for about one mile, it will begin to climb uphill and seem as though you are walking away from the river and canyon. In the distance as you are walking south, you’ll see a red sign with some torn up maps on it. This is where you will turn east (left) where you will begin walking towards the canyon. The trail is easy to follow at this point as it begins to drop into the canyon.

Be sure to look for a small pictograph panel that is easy to miss on your left about 3 miles into your hike from the trailhead. About half a mile past that on your right is an old mine. To the left of a small side canyon you’ll see a trail going up to a hole in some light yellow colored rock with a bunch or yellow tailings. There is also remains of a log cabin with tin cans around this area, but we were unable to find it. As you continue walking down the canyon you will ford the river several times. Make sure to check the current flow rate via USGS. If the river is running higher than 60 CFS, then crossing the river will be difficult, and possibly dangerous.

As you approach Virgin Spring Canyon you will be on the wrong side of the river and will need to cross the river to get into Virgin Spring Canyon. About 5 minutes up Virgin Spring on your right is a very nice pictograph panel about 15 feet above you. If you walk in the wash it’s easy to miss, but follow the trail on the west side of the canyon as you walk up will lead you to a sign that says to not deface the rock. Another 5-10 minutes up Virgin Canyon you’ll come to a dry fall where a large pool of water is located. This is your best source for water and should be your refill for the remainder of the trip, unless you choose to filter water from the river.

Virgin Spring Canyon has seen a bit of graffiti and people being careless about their trash. Please pick up any trash you see, and be a steward by practicing Leave No Trace principles. Virgin Spring Canyon has two or three nice spots to camp and this is your best option since it’s so close to a good water source.

Day 2: Make sure you are all stocked up on water and begin making your way down the canyon. There is supposed to be another pictograph panel just before you make the hard right turn on the river and start walking south toward Cane Wash. Cane Wash is also supposed to have decent camping and another pictograph panel located up the wash. We did not look for it on this most recent trip. You will cover about 8 miles this day to the car. The last 3.5 miles are dry and you no longer have to ford the river. Be prepared for a couple steep climbs, but nothing too aggressive.

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Winter Hammock Camping – My First Attempt At It

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Last week I stepped out of my comfort zone and spent my first night ever sleeping in a hammock. Over my childhood and adult years I have spent more nights in a tent, sleeping on the ground than I would even begin to try and count. But why have I never slept in a hammock, you ask? Easy, I never thought to even try it. Plus people are always complaining about how cold they get in a hammock and how much their back hurts in the morning. Hmmm… freezing your butt off, and back pain. Sounds worse than sleeping on a futon.

I am happy to report, that after just one night in 20 degree weather, i’ll be returning to the hammock for more glorious nights of sleep. But lets back track a little and talk about how I got to this point. As you may know I have been investing a lot of time into my YouTube Channel. In that time investment comes looking at what is trending in the outdoor industry. I’ve noticed a few things trending, that being Ultralight Backpacking, and Hammocks. Hammocking is becoming the big way to save weight and simplify a backpackers setup. But if not done correctly, it won’t save you much weight or space, and that is the struggle I am seeing here. At least within a winter setup.

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So what got me to head out into the freezing temps to test out the hammock?

Couple of things: I got my hands on a couple hammocks that I have been dying to to use more, and to see if hammocking makes sense for the type of backpacker that I am.

So what was the result? Overall a good experience. I’ll admit that I don’t have all the necessary gear needed to make sleeping in a hammock ideal, but I had enough to make the trial a worthy test. I took my existing Rab Silwing Tarp and set it up over my Wildhorn Outfitters Outpost hammock. I am glad there was no weather, because the tarp is not as long as the hammock, creating a problem for rain evasion. But what’s more important is the comfort level. With my NeoAir pad in the hammock it made for a very comfortable night of sleep, arguably better than some nights i’ve had sleeping on the ground. It’s not always amazing sleeping when out in the backcountry, but the hammock setup made for a comfortable night of sleep.

At this point it comes down to making critical adjustments to the setup to make it even better. Mainly i’d like to see it get lighter and more manageable. Meaning that in order for the hammock setup to make more sense than a tent, I need to get a tarp that works properly for a hammock and probably focus hammock camping for Summer use only.

Overall I am pleased with my first attempt and plan to make more attempts at it and perfect it a little.


Arcteryx Gamma LT Hoody – Gear Review

I feel like I say this all the time, but having good, high quality gear, makes all the difference when going, hiking, camping, or backpacking. There are endless options for outerwear for the outdoor enthusiast, but few companies are capable of creating outerwear the way that Arcteryx does. In this review, we introduce the Arcteryx Gamma LT Hoody, a light weight, breathable technical softshell, perfect for your everyday outdoor activities. 
I recently bought this jacket to add to my ever growing list of technical jackets. Arcteryx is a brand i’ve known for a long time, but have not owned until this year. But I am overly impressed by the jacket and know that it will be one of m favorite for a long time. 
Some specifics about the Gamma LT Hoody that make it a quality jacket. The Gamma LT has a really nice brushed soft shell fabric that creates a high level of durability, that also gives confidence that the jacket will last a long time. Arcteryx has made some improvements to the sleeves and created a nice stretch gusset that stays tight around a pair of gloves, but allows for proper stretch. No need to worry about a velcro sleeve to keep tight around the wrist. 
The hood of the Gamma LT is also very well designed. Large enough to wear with a helmet on for ice climbing, but incorporates the proper elements to make the hood fit snug on the head when not wearing a helmet. The Gamma is also the perfect soft shell for layering a light weight synthetic or down jacket underneath for added warmth. 
Really, the Gamma LT Hoody is the perfect soft shell, that will not only keep you dry, but will protect you from the wind, and it looks good. I mean, you gotta look good when out in the backcountry, right?!

Rab Equipment – AL Pull-On – The Best Base Layer

A good base layer? Seems like everywhere you go to find a good base layer you have what seems like hundreds of choices and dozens of brands. To be quite honest, I am kind of a gear snob and end up paying more for a piece of outerwear than I probably should be. However, i’ve learned that paying good money for a piece of outerwear really is, you get what you pay for. I’ve found that to be the case with the Rab AL Pull-on base layer. I bought two of these a few years ago, and it’s been worn more times than I could count. I feel like so many of the photos from my backpacking, climbing and hiking adventures I am wearing this base layer. It really is my go to base layer. 
With all that aside, lets get into what I love about this piece of clothing. The AL Pull-on is made from the Power Dry fabric by Polartec. A great wicking fabric that breathes incredibly well when worn right next to skin, and yet keeps the body warm. This particular base layer is a half zip that makes regulating temperature a breeze. 
I’ve worn this layer so much that it’s become a staple to my backcountry outerwear. Not only is it extremely comfortable and fits well, it’s been a reliable layer that i’ve always counted on. In March 2015 I wore this layer on a six day backpacking trip through the Paria River Canyon. Basically it was the perfect light weight, base layer that made sure I didn’t get too much sun on my neck and arms, and yet kept me cool when in the sun, but also warm in the cold shadows of the canyon. 
If you are in the market for a great base layer, this is one to make part of your gear list.  

Last Child In The Woods – 11k With May

What’s trending… How do we remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle, screen time, and our constant need to be connected. Steve Jobs may have been the mastermind behind the iPhone, but indirectly, was also the mastermind behind the mobile screen addict, or as Louis C.K. put it, the “forever empty”. We have a constant need to be connected and when alone, we find ourselves instantly looking for gratification from our cell phone. Im guilty of it, we’re all guilty of it. Like Wall-E, technology will inevitably make us more and more lazy. It’s already happening, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to disconnect and be present with our families and ourselves.

Recently i’ve been inspired to make a change in myself. This year, James Lawrence aka, The Iron Cowboy, completed 50 Iron Man’s in 50 days in 50 states. Obviously a true feat of human endurance, and he’s inspired a lot of people to set goals that seem crazy, but push the mind to its limits. But what does that mean for me? Let me give you some background.

I grew up in a family that loved being in the outdoors. We camped many times a year as a family, and I attribute my love and passion for the outdoors to my parents for those experiences. I also had an amazing friend and mentor at a young age that also took me camping that helped me discover why I loved being outside. I was just like any other 90’s kid. I played Nintendo to my hearts desire, I had a TV in my bedroom, I sat on my floor and played with Lego’s. But I didn’t have 2015 technology at my fingertips either. I am sure my childhood would have been a little different had there been iPhones and 2015 technology. With all of those distractions though, I loved being outside. I spent many summer days with my brothers fishing along the Provo River, riding my bike all over, and building forts in an empty lot down the street from my house. I loved being outside!

A few years ago I read a book called, Last Child In The Woods. In quick words, the author talks about how we’re slowly losing our ability to appreciate the outdoors and how we as a society have made excuses for not allowing ourselves and children to play outdoors. Slowly we have become the inside people. We fear being outside, and we fear each other. Sending my child outside to play is viewed as dangerous now. Really, it’s pathetic and ridiculous how sensitive we as people have become to each other and what we do with our lives. The lack of authentic social interaction is quickly deteriorating into self absorbed personalities that don’t know how to communicate and disconnect from devices that keep us from being natural humans, a natural need to play. But this begs the question, will it ever change? Will society ever go back to what we knew in the 90’s and before? I have to argue, that no it will never be the same again. So instead of sitting around complaining about it, make a decision to change and be different from society. Let your kids go outside and play,

Which that then leads me to my commitment. I spoke about The Iron Cowboy briefly. I’ve had the opportunity to spend a little bit of time with him and his family at Momentum Climbing in Lehi, where I work. James and his family have been spending some time at Momentum each week as a new activity for their family to do. In many people’s minds, he’s like this super human that no other person can touch. He’s become a celebrity. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a person. He had to make a choice to be who he is, and work hard to accomplish the goals that he set.

For the last year, my wife and I have been looking forward to bringing a child into our home. We’re excited to be a family and excited for the new adventure. With an adventure like this, comes a dedication to new goals and lifestyle. I’ve been pretty unhappy with my level of activity over the last year, and from the outside it appears as though i’ve been fairly active. Katie and I had one of the best summers of our time together, and I was able to get some backpacking in that I have been wanting to do for a long time. We loved all of the time spent adventuring this summer. But part of that was because we knew this baby is coming and we wanted to get some trips in, just the two of us.

This has caused me to reevaluate my level of activity, and make some goals that involve keeping my family active. I know that a baby is going to be a difficult change for our family. This little girl is going to be our world though. We’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time, and now that she is here, we’re just smitten.

So here’s my commitment, to myself and to my family. Just because it’s hard, or inconvenient, doesn’t mean it won’t be worth it. I want to be the person and father that my children look up to as a mentor and as someone that inspired them to try hard things, and take chances on life.
I want Maylin to see being in the mountains her way of decompressing, enjoying life, and escaping the hustle and bustle. I want to see her love being in the sun, seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, cherishing simple moments of solitude only found when deep in the backcountry.

Before Maylin turns 1, Katie and I have a goal to summit all of the 11,000 foot peaks in the Wasatch Range. That’s 36 peaks in total. We are calling this adventure, 11k With May and will be captured through video and blog posts as we accomplish the goal.

The moral here is, get out and enjoy the outdoors! Make goals and achieve them! Teach yourself and your kids the good that comes from being active and spending time in the backcountry.

Sea To Summit – Traveller Light Day Pack Review

If you are going to be doing what I call, destination backpacking, then having a good day pack to bring along is a necessary item. Lets say you are going to backpack several miles into an area of lakes that are within pretty close proximity to each other. You camp at one of the lakes, but you want to see the others. You are unlikely to pack up your 60 liter pack for a simple day hike. Why not take something so light and small that you almost forget you have it. 
The Sea To Summit Traveling Light Day Pack is the perfect option for a light weight, simple day pack. Weighing in at only 2.4 ounces, it takes up virtually zero space in your pack, and makes the day hikes more enjoyable. 
The good about this pack i’ve already mentioned. It’s small, light weight, and is easy to carry. It’s roughly 12 liters in capacity, so you can load a bunch of stuff in it, but be careful. The shoulder straps are nice and wide, but if you load it with more than 8 pounds of stuff, then it’s going to get a little uncomfortable. The straps have zero padding in them and they can collapse into a smaller strap when too much weight is put into the pack. Be smart and don’t carry more than you need. 
Made from high quality, ripstop, sip nylon, it’s tough, light weight, simple and the perfect addition to your backpacking system.

Backpacking Essentials – Backcountry Exposure Youtube Series

One of my favorite things about backpacking is the preparation that comes with the anticipation for a trip. I remember getting prepared for my trip down The Paria River with a school class. That trip involved a lot of planning, preparation and mental preparation. Knowing how to get ready for backpacking experiences is vital to whether or not you enjoy yourself out on the trail. 
This has lead me to create a series of videos to share with you all about the Essentials of Backpacking. Everything from gear to use, what to buy, and even the ethics behind being a good person in the backcountry. I love to share my knowledge with people and look forward to seeing the evolution of this series. It will primarily be contained on my Youtube Channel, but I will update with each video here as well. 

Uinta Mountains In The Fall – Mirror Lake Highway Adventures

Fall is easily my favorite time of the year. Seeing the changing colors of the trees and watching the earth change as it gets colder is something that has always fascinated me. I find my excitement for being in the mountains goes out of control when that first touch of cold hits. 
Three weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed our beautiful little girl into the world. Maylin has become our world and we are beyond excited to share our love for the outdoors with her. 
A few days ago we made an impromptu decision to jump in the Jeep and go for a drive up the Mirror Lake Highway. We thought we would also go for a hike if the weather was good enough, but that quickly changed as we watched the temperature drop slowly as we drove higher and higher. So instead of hiking, we stayed in the car and made some stops along the way.
Mirror Lake Highway is a great place to go for easy access to great day hikes, beautiful overlooks, and an opportunity to see wildlife. One of the more popular locations to stop at is Provo River Falls.
There is a nice view point that overlooks the falls, but you can walk down to the water with ease and dip your feet in the water to cool off on a hot summer day. 
After stopping at Provo River Falls, keep driving east and you’ll start gaining elevation quickly, and you come to my favorite place on the highway. Bald Mountain Pass sits at just over 10,500 feet and is one of the highest places in Utah you can drive your car. Make sure to stop at the pass and take in the view looking west. If it’s a nice clear day you can see the East face of Mount Timpanogos. 
There’s no doubt that the Uinta Mountains are a great getaway. Whether it’s for a multi day backpack trip or a day driving in the car. It’s just nice to get out and enjoy. 

Packard Lake – High Uinta Wilderness Backpacking

The High Uinta Wilderness is one of my favorite places to visit, and having it so close makes visiting simple and convenient. This year my wife and I are expecting our first child, and I wanted to make sure I got out backpacking enough times over the Summer knowing that the Fall and Winter seasons would be filled with a different priority.
I rallied some friends of mine and we originally planned to hike into Red Castle, but quickly changed plans because I didn’t want to be too far away from Katie, with her being 9 months along.

Instead of Red Castle, we decided to go a shorter distance and see what Packard Lake was like, off the Highline Trail. All I can say is I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful and amazing this area of the Uintas is. So lets get into the details.

Packard Lake is located about 4 miles from the Highline Trailhead off the Mirror Lake Highway.

The Highline may be the most popular trail in the Uinta Wilderness. It basically cuts the range in half and covers over 50 miles of terrain. The west side of the highline is vastly different than the east side, but both boast beautiful views and high elevations.

Getting to Packard is moderately difficult. Any seasoned backpacker would see this as an easy hike, but someone new to backpacking would need to take some extra time as there’s a good amount of elevation gain and loss after you leave the highline trail and branch off towards Packard. You’ll start from the Highline Trailhead and after about 2.2 miles you’ll be passing Scudder Lake, which is the first lake you see as you hike. Another .8 miles and you’ll come to the Packard Lake junction on your right. The sign for the junction is posted on a large tree and you cannot miss it. From there, be ready to go up and down several times. There are some steep sections that will leave a new backpacker needing to stop for a breather.

There are three lakes after you take the right at the junction and head towards Packard. The first you come to is Wilder. It’s a beautiful setting and has some great camping, but I suggest moving onward. After some steep trail and following a ridgeline you descend and come to Wyman Lake. Wyman also has some great camping, and a beautiful sight next to a classic Uinta bubbling brook. Again, a stunning view and area, but keep walking another 10 to 15 minutes and make your way to Packard. There is a beautiful meadow just before you head east toward Packard Lake. Stop and enjoy the view and hope to see some deer hanging out.

As you come up to Packard, which is the largest of the three lakes, you’ll notice that you are right up against a ridgeline. As seen in the title image of this post, the lake sits against an amazing overlook of the Duchesne River. You’ll see a waterfall, cliff band, and big open skies. It’s absolutely beautiful! As you approach the lake, the best camping is on the right side between the canyon overlook and the lake. It’s obvious that this is a popular place for scout troops to come, as it’s only 4 miles of hiking. There’s good spots, but we found a great, quiet spot nestled back in some thick trees further back along the lake shore. Let the scout troops coming in to kill your quiet solitude take the large open, over used spots close to the outlet of the Lake.

The fishing in Packard was not the greatest i’ve seen in the Uinta Wilderness. I tried using a fly and bubble, switching between red and yellow humpies, to mosquitos, to renegades, and the Brook Trout in the lake would not take the bait. Jakes Spinner Lures are probably your best option for this lake.

This particular trip was one of the most relaxing backpacking trips i’ve ever had. But it also came with some frustration. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on Leave No Trace as i’ve been in the backcountry, and try hard to not overdue it, but was displeased with how the area was littered with numerous unnecessary fire rings in such odd and obscure locations. Trash, and the occasional spool of old fishing line spread across the lake shore. Please be responsible when out in the backcountry and Leave No Trace.

I highly recommend this as a great option for a one or two day trip. Access is great, the views never disappoint, and the atmosphere of the lake is enough to make you feel like you are hundreds of miles from any other person on earth.

Glacier National Park – Trip of a lifetime!

Bucket list… That’s really all I can say about Glacier National Park. June 2015 my wife and I set off on a 5 day trip from Salt Lake City to Glacier. We invited some close friends of ours, packed up the Jeep and headed north. After many months of planning and waiting we were finally on our way!

Glacier is amazing! It’s probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Everywhere you look you see amazing peaks, beautiful lakes and wildlife. This is a place that everyone needs to visit.

We spent the first two days on the East side of the park and the rest of the trip on the West side. We tried to see as much as we could in the short time we had, but there’s no way to see all of the park in one week.

Day 1: After 12 hours of driving we finally made it to Saint Mary, Montana. What a beautiful place! Very small town with a few restaurants and the perfect setting for the beginning of our trip. We spent the first two nights in the Saint Mary campground which was really nice.

Day 2: We spent most of the day around the Many Glacier area of the park. After some driving around we hit the trail towards Red Rock Falls. Not a big waterfall by any means, but an absolutely beautiful place! After a nap and walking around we made the hike back to the car and drove to the Going to the Sun Road. We made our way up the road towards Logan Pass. As we got closer, it started to storm, and it got colder and more rainy. We loved it though.

Day 3: We packed up our things and loaded the Jeep and headed towards the Two Medicine area of the park. After a fantastic breakfast at Luna’s in East Glacier Village, we made our way towards the entrance of the park. We noticed a few cars stopped in the road, and when we got it them, we saw what was causing the jam…a bear! I had never seen a bear before, but what a cool thing!

Two medicine is a really neat area of the park. We thought it’d be fun to do the boat tour on the lake. So we boarded the Sinopah and had about a 45 minute tour of the lake with some historical information. I think it’s a must for this area. Lots of hiking to do here as well, but we opted out of the hiking this day, and just enjoyed a casual day.

Day 4: We moved over to the West side of the park this day and enjoyed a morning out in a row boat on Lake McDonald. Highly recommend getting out on the lake when you visit. We then drove up the road to Logan pass again and hiked the Hidden lake trail to the overlook. What an incredible view! This is a must regardless of how many people there are!

This place is amazing, and I am leaving out a lot of details here. But part of me wants people to go and experience the place themselves.