Utah Desert Solitude…Searching for Swasy’s Leap

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We spent the weekend in the Escalante Staircase National Monument. This is a prehistoric yet wondrously accessible desert in central Utah. If our Commander and creep has his way, this land will be mined out… selling its beauty to the evils of oil and natural gas exploration. Oil fields scattered all over this beautiful landscape. Heavy machinery traveling on the fun back roads we explore in the peace and quiet of this desert.

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At least for now, this is a pristine area that takes you into some of the most ancient exposed rock on earth. The vast panoramas are breathtaking and are the product of millions and millions of years of evolution. More to the point… wind, sand and water. I have traveled to many places in this world and seen many landscapes.
This Utah desert is spectacular and has a history full of intrigue, cowboys, Indians and bandits.

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We set out to find a trail called Swasy’s Leap. It was at the end of some pretty advanced 4WD roads requiring a high clearance vehicle. I can say that the trek in was far easier than the trek out. Funny we never did find where this little bet was waged and the leap was made back in 1800. No problem the 5-6 miles we hiked were rewarding and around every butte was more and more wonder and awe.

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We followed an eighteen year old 4WD Book and a topographical map. The dirt roads go off everywhere. We got off on the road to the trailhead, finally, and maneuvered our Cruzer carefully over the rocky ledges and step downs for 4 miles to the trailhead. The heavy black storm clouds hung around the rocky peaks in the distance, and threatened us with curtains of rain and flashes of lightening. The sun held the storm at bay until we got back to the car and found our remote campsite.

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We unfolded our roof top tent as it got dark with heavy thunder clouds and sought refuge inside the Cruzer as Mother Nature unleashed her fury. We kicked back to wait out the storm and had a well deserved cocktail and laughed at our hike and joked about this kid Swasy, who jumped a crevasse, on his horse, somewhere out there, instead of riding around the damn thing. He got 75 head of cattle for this little stunt, which made him rich and got him written up in the Utah history books.

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The storm passed, gave us a rainbow, and as is usual, the desert sucked up every drop and dried out quickly. We settled in, cooked some dinner and had a fire. Love, love LOVE the desert solitude.

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We were basically “trying out” the remote camping or boon-docking. We have purchased so many new items to get prepared for our upcoming Overlanding adventure. A new Snomaster fridge/freezer, new double battery setup, new suspension and steering components, new Baja full length flat roof rack, we wired and installed a Pure Sine Wave 1750 Watt Inverter. She’s never really been tested out.

I am here to tell you she performed incredibly. The fridge didn’t pull down the AGM spare battery at all. The Inverter worked flawlessly. She stepped up and stepped down rocky trails, got her first brush scratches, rooftop tent was awesome, although a bit hard… but toasty warm.

We spent the weekend talking about how to build out the interior. Wether or not to buy a 4×4 van. The SportsMobiles are very expensive. You can’t drive an ULEV diesel into Central America… the diesel isn’t available, so a lot of the nice big turbo diesel vans are out of the question. Decisions… decisions…

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Icelandic Horses: A Breed of Its Own

A small island deserves a small horse! The Icelandic ponies are actually horses. Though short in stature, usually between 13 and 15 hands, they are registered by breeders as a horse. This small horse is a very hardy breed and suffer from far less diseases than a mainland horse. The law does not let these small guys to be exported and no other breeds to be imported. If one ever were to leave the island, they are never allowed to return, ensuring the purity of this majestic breed.

The Icelandic horse has even been a focal point in many Norse Myths. They were thought to be a symbol of fertility so they often were sacrificed by early Norse settlers. The horses were revered by warriors during the Medieval period and were often made to fight each other for breeding rights. A warrior killed in battle would often be sent to Valhalla with his Nobel Steed by his side.

Natural selection often played a role in these stallions lives. In the early medieval times the horses would starve or succumb to the brutal winter winds and cold. Exposure to the elements, notwithstanding volcanic eruptions, famine and sacrifice, often became the end to whole herds. The breed was once thought descendent from the Shetland, Faroe Pony and the Norwegian Fjord horse. In the early 9th century, the Icelandic Parliament prohibited the inbreeding of outside horses. This act in 992 AD lead eventually to a pure breed. For over 1,000 years the Icelandic horse has been a pure breed.

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The characteristic flowing mane, short legs, well proportioned head, incredible weight bearing capacities, muscular shoulders and slightly sloping long backs, make this an incredibly valuable prized possession. The breed has an average life span of 30 good years, with recorded life spans of over 50 years. They are known for having two distinctive gaits, the Tölt, which is a four beat stride good for comfortably covering great distances at explosive accelerations. The second is called flugskeið or “flying pace”. This is a fast and smooth gait used to pace the horse during a race. This is mostly used for short bursts but not a long distance run. An amazing breed indeed.

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A trip on the back of an Icelandic is a great way to explore the terrain of Iceland. The horse is sure-footed and fearless, yet comfortable to ride, even for the beginner. There are numerous farms that offer guests this pleasurable past time. There is nothing like getting up into the wilds of the highlands on the back of one of these majestic steeds.

When in Iceland, search out a farm offering tours and ride one of these wild and adventurous horses. These are treasured companions and loyal servants. They have earned their place in the past and future of Iceland.

 

Iceland: History, Myths and Fairytales

Back in 1970 a famous band sang a song about Iceland. Got it? Yep LED Zeppelin wrote:
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.

Hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new land.
To fight the hordes and sing, and cry.
Valhalla, I am coming. LZ

This song congers up visions of volcanoes, geysers , great fields of glaciers etching their way through the lava fields, and great crashing waves. A land that the Vikings called home.

Iceland was named to deter outsiders from coming to this volatile, lush and a very temperate and tectonically active land. It’s counterpart Greenland is actually covered with more ice and snow than is Iceland.

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Considering Iceland’s history began pre 1000 AD, and was a lawless land of Vikings and later Norwegians looking for new lands, it is noted for one of the first parliaments and one of the worlds oldest functioning legislative assemblies. Pretty good for an island of just under 40,000 square miles.

Around the tenth century, the christians came to the island. By the twelfth century its Commonwealth dissolved and it was drawn into the Nordic Union then by the fifteenth century it fell under Danish rule. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century the island fell into a combination of hardships, poverty and natural disasters. By the end of the First World War, Iceland finally gained sovereignty yet remained under Danish Monarchy until, WWII. It was a neutral state in WWII but was peacefully occupied by British forces to stop a Nazi occupation.

In the twentieth century it succumbed to the financial troubles of the European economy even though it stayed out of the European Union. Iceland was a founding member of both the United Nations and the North Atlantic Trade Organization. Its economy grew rapidly largely through fishing, although this was marred by conflicts with other nations.

Ok enough of the history lesson… the island of Iceland is home to the meeting point of the European and North Atlantic tectonic plates. It is home to 130 volcanoes, of which 60-70 are still active. It is a land in progress. It has the ability to wipe out most of its population. On average it records 100 tremors a day. It is home to the worlds youngest island, Surtsey, which took just under three years to form from a series of underwater volcanic eruptions. It has become a Petri dish for scientist to study how life evolves from primordial events.

Another interesting fact is the climate is considered subarctic! Sitting between latitude 63 and 64 degrees N, it sits completely inside the arctic circle. It is warmed by the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Current which puts its overall climate similar to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The “Summer” months are from May thru early September. This is also the time of the Midnight Sun. In late June through early August the sun barely slips out of sight making approximately 17 to 21 hours of daylight at the Summer Solstice. Likewise the “Winter” months of late November through early February sees only 4 to 7 hours of daylight. The winter and summer solstices vary in daylight by 17 hours.

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Myths and Folklore of Iceland are just as cool as the landscape. Rooted deep in Nordic Viking traditions and lore. Of course I own a “fairy’s steed”. It is believed that the Corgi was used by Fairies to ride into battle. Descendants of the Swedish Valhound they played a big part in folklore. Even though the original inhabitants of Iceland were thought to be thugs and barbarians, Icelanders are considered one of the most civilized peoples on the planet. Their culture is steeped in folklore, Elves, Fairies, Trolls and other interesting sorts. They are strong believers in all things Supernatural. Those include the ones that go bump in the night… the Huldufolk.

The Huldufolk are believed to be the protectors of the land. They comprise mainly of Elves and Fairies. They also can bring misfortune to any household that angers or displeases them.

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Next are the Trolls or Giants. If this sounds like the land of Lord of the Rings… you’re not far from the truth. The Trolls are brought to life in the town of Vik were I have read that three Trolls stand frozen in the Ocean. Actually they are wind and sea carved basalt formations. Trolls are believed to live in the dark grottoes and caves formed in the earth. They are also not too friendly. There is an entire set of books read to Icelandic children growing up. Most Icelanders, if asked, will take you to see a Troll on their property. It is said if they get caught in sunlight, they turn to stone.

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What culture would be complete without SANTA Claus. The Yule Lads, or Yulemen are liken to SANTA and his Elves. Yule Lads are thirteen in number and are responsible for putting you on the naughty or nice list. They put rewards or punishments in the shoes of children who leave them on their window sills during the thirteen days of Christmas. These punishments are normally in the form of rotten potatoes.

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One of the most sustained myths is that of the Alfhol. These are small houses that Icelanders build to house their Elves. These small houses are built with love and great care so their Elves will be happy and not bring any mis-adventures to them. There is even an entire street call Elf Street/Hill. The story goes a street was being built across a lava field and the crews were plagued with constant mishaps.  Equipment failure, accidents and such.  The road was moved a few feet and all the happenings stopped.

Witches, Mermen, Sea Monsters and such are also steeped deep in lore. Kings, Princes, and great Vikings also round out the great tales of Iceland.

 

Two Miles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight: Home Sweet Home
I woke up several days later in a much starker environment than when I last was awake. The smell of sterile bed sheets, freshly sweated on pillows and a voice echoing in my brain, “Dr. Granger code blue.” I was in the hospital. No idea how I got here. In a panic I sat straight up and yelled out, “Breeze!” A nurse came rushing in. I was sobbing uncontrollably. “Where’s my dog? He saved my life!” The nurse tried to console me but another came in with a syringe and poked it into my IV and said, “that should work soon.”
I was awakened by a kind soft hand stroking my hair. It was my girlfriend. She was holding my hand and talking softly to me. I opened my eyes and looked at her. Her eyes opened wide and she said, “welcome back traveler.” The doctor came in and also welcome me back and explained I had really done a number to myself and it was a damn good thing I brought my dog along or I might not have made it.
Turns out the gash on my head was very deep and I had cracked my scull and caused a bruise on my brain. He told me I was lucky to be alive. Just then a 70 lbs beast appeared on the bottom of my bed and laid down beside me. He nudged my hand until I pet him. “Good boy” I whispered. The doc said I could go home as soon as I was able to stand on my own. He told me I had been in a coma like state for four days after the medi-vac arrived. He told me I was a lucky woman and that maybe I should not hike alone in conditions like this. I informed him I wasn’t alone and perhaps if I had been with another human there may have been two casualties. He concurred, signed my chart and welcomed me back home.

Two Miles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven: We’re Going Home

Breeze and I sat down on the side of the trail enjoying some scratches and reciprocating licks. My head pounded in the blazing morning sun. My mouth was getting that Velcro feeling again. Every time I stood up I felt faint and nauseous. I searched for two saplings or strong downed branches I could use to steady myself as I hiked the last few miles. Of course there was no guarantee we would find anybody at the lake, but it was a favorite camp spot for many hikers.

I played songs in my head as I hiked on. Breeze would come run circles around me and run off ahead. Each step corresponded with the pounding in my head. My mouth was a desert and I envisioned the lake just a few steps ahead. The sun was blazing and I just wanted to drop my pack and lie down in the cool shady areas just off the trail. I came upon another stream and I had a literal panic attack. Although it was not rushing as fast and was not nearly as wide I froze in my tracks.

I am not sure what happened. When I came to, breeze was lying beside me. I could hear the stream. I opened my eyes and the shadows had grown long and shaded the trail. I was lying on my side in a crumpled up lump of human and backpack with my dog curled up beside me. I sat up and was reminded of my head again. I focused on the stream and knew there was no going back. Breeze ran a circle around me and bounded across the stream with ease. I struggled to get to my feet without passing out and moved forward one slow step at a time until I was on the other side of the stream.

I looked at my watch… 4:55pm. I had been out for hours. I dropped my pack and dug out my pot. I chugged down seven or eight pots of water until I thought I would puke. I doused my aching head with pots full of water. It was icy cold and I could feel my swollen eyes and hair matted with blood as I wiped my face and wrung out my hair. I stood up and pointed my body in the direction it needed to go and demanded it to move forward. Everything took so much effort.

I walked in a trancelike state for what seemed like hours. In my blurry gaze I saw a sliver of blue. I opened my eyes wider and stopped. As things came into focus I could see the lake. I had made it. I sat on a rock that was just the right height as to not make me bend over or sit too far down and listened. I could hear the birds, the stream entering the lake, and the rustling of the wind in the trees. I scanned the horizon and followed the outline of the lake for a wisp of smoke. I unhooked my pack and let it fall to the ground. I hadn’t the energy to move another inch.

As the sun dropped below the ridge, I could hear the sound of the brookies jumping out of the water scooping up the larve of the night insects. I opened my eyes again and a quarter the way around the lake I saw two figures come out of the woods and enter the water, fishing poles in hand. I attempted to yell, nothing but a grunt came out. I attempted to stand up but my legs failed to support my weight. Breeze came over as if to sense my urgency. I told him to “go get the men” and pointed at the figures in the water. He cocked his head as I said it again, looked over his shoulder, then took off. I closed my eyes and listened intently. I could hear Breeze barking crazy and splashing around in the water. I could hear the voices of the men calling to him. I blacked out again.

I heard a commotion in my brain. I was in some other realm of consciousness. The roar in my ears grew silent and I heard voices. I felt the wet licks in my ear and on my face. I felt a cold splash of water and I opened my eyes. There were men standing all around me. I found Breeze sitting beside me and stroked his fur, “good boy I muttered”, and passed out again as I heard a voice say, “we’re gonna get you out of here.”

Two Miles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Six

Chapter Six: The Final Miles

After a good nights sleep, I woke to the pink glow of the morning’s dawn on a few high clouds. I daydreamed of eggs and bacon frying in a pan. The smell of fresh biscuits and sweet creamy butter. The feel of a soft tongue kissing my ear… Breeze you little shit! I stretched and sat up and evaluated my head wound. It was beginning to scab up some and still felt quite deep and painful. I retired the towel and crawled out of my tent. On the outside of the vestibule was something I couldn’t quiet make out. It was a pheasant hen. Breeze had provided again.

I pulled on my long johns and fleece shirt and went about stoking the fire back up. Breeze sat and watched I as prepared the hen as best as I could to be breakfast. Again Breeze got the parts I couldn’t quite stomach including a lot of internal stuff I couldn’t quite identify. I gave him the last of his canned food. I was down to two bags of food. Everything else had been washed out of the pack when it tore open. I was glad I separated the freeze dried food from the fresh and canned food. At least I had something and with Breeze being my provider, I doubt we would starve.

I pulled out my Garmin to see what kind of signal I might get… if it worked at all. The screen had been shattered and one button pushed inside. I knew it was waterproof but with a busted screen I didn’t want to take the chance of powering it up till I was sure it was good and dry. I had separated the batteries and left the back cover off. Wrapped it in my wool sock, yes I only had one left, and hooked it to the top of my pack where it might get some sun. It was the moment of truth. This was the biggest clearing I had come across in two days. Would it power up and triangulate? If it did would I be able to see anything on the busted screen?

I put it back in the sock and broke down camp. I figured I would need to get to the lake by noon and I might catch another hiker passing through. I still felt like the Trail should be north. Breeze was excited to hit the trail again. I pulled out the Garmin and flicked the switch. At first there was a sorta white glow on the busted screen, then a flash or two of color. I watched with my fingers and toes crossed. My heart sunk as the screen went black. Damn boy, we are on our own…

I could see the mountains in the distance, snow capped and silent. I could see a familiar landmark that I remembered reading about in the guide book. I pulled out my phone that had been saved by days in a bag of freeze dried chicken and rice, and opened up the picture I had taken. I guessed the trail shouldn’t be too far off and with the trees thinning out I might actually find it today and soon. I set off towards the north keeping the land mark always at 11:00. At 9:36am we stumbled upon the trail. I dropped my pack and scrambled up a tree and could see the lake I had seen from the top of the last pass! We had found the right trail. Only a few miles to go…

Two MIles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Five

Chapter Five: In the End… It’s the Little Things That Matter

Dawn comes early this time of year. Over twenty four hours have passed since I woke up in my own bed, complaining about how hot it was. Since I had a good breakfast and double checked my pack and called everyone on my team of drivers. This morning I am lying here awake wondering which way to go? Forward or back? Do I call in a rescue if I can get the Garmin to work? I still need to find the trail before I can decide which way to go. I sat up and looked around.

Breeze was lying with all fours in the air, head cocked towards me and smiling, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. I looked around and all I could see was dead trees. I struggled to get to my feet as I swooned as I attempted to stand. My head was pounding with the worse headache I have ever had. I am pretty sure I have a concussion or something. I sip down the rest of the water I boiled the night before but it did nothing to quench my thirst. I dug through my pack and laid out my clothes on a few dead trees anticipating the sun to come over the ridge soon. I pulled out another bag of food, boiled some more water and made breakfast.

Breeze had taken off to do whatever it is he needs to do. I sat down and enjoyed my meal. I sipped down two more pots of boiled water over the next hour and called for Breeze. I hear him bounding through the trees and he arrives with a squirrel in his jaws. He gently places it in front of me and gives it a nudge. I pick it up and checked it out for bugs or whatever lives on squirrels. Seemed pretty clean and was obviously killed by the dog. I dug in my pack again and found my Leatherman, yes the one I was bitching about. I carefully slit the belly of the squirrel open and gutted and skinned it like I saw on Bear Grylls. I stoked the fire and stuck it on a spit I cut from a nearby live tree. It smelled a little like chicken and tasted like a rabbit I had eaten once on a dare. I gave Breeze the head and a back leg along with another couple scoops of his canned food. We both sat back against a tree and felt the life course back into our veins.

I took my trail towel and cut a slice off it to wrap around my head to reduce the headache and close my wound a bit. I checked my watch… 3:45pm. The sun had been overhead for most of the day and I had dried out everything quite nicely. I had to take a few cat naps in between the rotisserie of my belongings. Breeze would take off and come back to check on me every so often. He’d kiss my face and nudge me awake. Probably a good thing with a head injury. I decided I needed to drink a bit more water and be off by 6 pm.

I packed all my belongings into my tattered pack and hoisted it onto my back and decided I needed to head north. Since as far as I could see was dense trees and acres of dead trees standing, fallen to the ground in huge tangles and ones leaning on other dead ones. I choose my direction carefully and wound my way over under and through the forest, so as to avoid as many climbing challenges as possible. The dead leaning trees creaked eerily as the wind blew. It was getting near dark again I still had yet to find the trail.

Tired and hungry, burning with thirst again, head pounding at a dizzying level, I decided to find a camp spot. Breeze was eagerly bouncing about running back and forth from me to an unseen area of the forest. I followed his lead and the trees opened up into a yellow meadow of flowers. There were two 15 foot Aspen trees standing at 15 feet apart. I threw down my pack at the base of one and pulled out my tent and set it up between the two. I love the sound of the aspen leaves in the evening air. I gathered wood and presto I had fire. There was a small trickle of a mountain spring not too far from camp and I boiled as much water as I could before the sun went down then used the last bit in another gourmet freeze dried meal.