I've been absent from making posts, but the hiking has continued. 2015 is coming to a close and there are many stories to tell from the last two years...

Oh wow. Many many hikes. Ice Age Trail, Colorado, South Dakota Badlands. I need a week off work to do some writing.

July 21st - Sam Baker State Park, Missouri
August - Paddling Door County
Sept 7th - Ice Age Trail - Mondeaux Segment
Oct 3rd - Levis-Trow
Oct 18th - Ice Age Trail - Greenbush Segment

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ice Age Trail - Plover River and Dells of the Eau Claire

GPS Track File

     There is little better I can think to do on a day off work than to go hiking.  Monday November 9th, 2015 was a beautiful fall day, perfect for a northern Wisconsin adventure.  Today’s adventure would be a 13.5 mile hike on the Ice Age Trail covering both the Plover River and Dells of the Eau Claire segments.

     The day started off at 07:00 in a gravel parking lot on CTY Z in Marathon County.  The sun was just up and barely visible on the horizon when Gail showed up to lend me a hand on the hike by shuttling me the 12 miles to the start of my hike on CTY HH.  Along the way Gail pointed out some places I’d go by and talked briefly about her history on the trail.   Folks like Gail keep the trail going.  I’m not only thankful for the ride but her time spent keeping the trail in shape and available.   As it turned out she was going to perform some maintenance on a nearby segment and ended up spending more time on the trail than I did.

     I had some trouble with a trekking pole after getting dropped off, delaying my hike by about 5 minutes.  Sometimes the one of them gets very finicky and does not want to tighten.  I had to fiddle about pulling it apart and putting it together a few times before it wants to cooperate again.  I was almost to the point of stowing it and using just one, but gave it just one more try… and it took.  Phew.  There have lately been some discussions on an IAT forum on the whether to use hiking poles.  With my leg issues I feel like I have little choice.  I did 9 miles on Saturday (two days ago) with Ruth and some friends.  Did that without trekking poles and believe me the last 2 miles were pretty rough.  I wasn’t sure I’d be recovered in time for this hike.  
     Oh yeah – worthy of a sideline.  We were hiking on the ski trails in the Southern Kettle Moraine.  We showed up and there was whole pile of tents and people.  There was an endurance race underway.  The longest of which would have the runners circle that 9.2 mile loop 22 times.   We hiked the opposite direction of the race and you can imagine that we got to know some of the runners pretty well by the end of your hike, seeing some of the 3 times.

     At 07:26 I did finally take off down the trail.  Immediately the trail was a little difficult to follow and required looking for blazes.  This would be true of much of the first 2 miles of the trail.  The nature of these woods was that there seemed to be little underbrush which allowed the fallen leaves to evenly carpet the forest floor.   After a little while I was able to attune to the signs of previous foot travel and pick out the trail but there were still times I had to stop and look for the next yellow blaze.

     The first mile and a half of the trail snakes along ridges and small boulders on a well maintained and easily travelled trail.  The trail then drops into some lowlands where feet would be very wet if it were not for two long boardwalks.  The boardwalks look new, in the last couple years, and are truly a feat of craftsmanship. 


      I made HWY 52 parking lot at 08:41, making ok time, but I’m in no real rush today.

     The trail changes abruptly after crossing HWY 52 becoming a narrow footpath.  Much of this segment follows the Plover River and when I say follows I mean take a step to the left and you’re in the river.  The trail is quite rugged but not overly challenging.  There is a good bit of rock hopping and log walking to avoid numerous muddy areas.  In the days of adventure racing I wouldn’t hesitate for too long before wading through a swamp, but these days hiking I try to keep my feet dry for as long as possible.
     There is river crossing on rocks that even I was able to do, but to do that in wet conditions, like rain or high water I think I’d just get my feet wet and not risk a turned ankle.  But today – easily crossed even for one with my lack of balance.

     Shortly after crossing the river the trail takes a high route for a while before descending back down to the river.  By 09:30 the sun was now beginning to warm things up – a good thing.  I was piqued by a clanking from outside my pack.  My water bottle was hitting something metal or plastic, but I didn’t have anything strapped outside where that could happen.  Turned out it was large chunks of ice in my water bottle finally melting and moving around.
     The view from up on the ridge was grand.  The open woods, the rising sun, and a grove of densely packed poplar framed a view across the river valley.  The trail alternates a couple times between high and low. When high you have great view of the land and when low the river makes great music as you attempt to avoid mud by boulder hopping.
     A nice surprise on the final approach to Sportsman Rd is a section of prairie.  From the looks of it, this was likely a very old farm.  There is at least one large rock pile that was not made by the hand of nature.
     My legs were ready for Sportsman Rd and the large parking lot.  At 10:12 it was time for an extended break.  Around 6 miles in is where my legs begin to complain and today was no different.  What was different today was that the sun was out, 50 degrees, no bugs.  Perfect for just sitting still for a while.
     After a 20 minute break the 3.5 mile hike along Sportsman Rd began.  The first mile or so of the connector is paved but then gives way to gravel – sort of.  The gravel is well packed and nearly as hard as asphalt.  I stuck to the sides where the gravel was a little softer.  The road went by quickly and was mostly bordered by woods with only a couple of buildings set back; a very pleasant walk in 50 degree sunny weather.

    I met up with the trail again at 11:38.  I had a notion that the trail would be about a quarter mile or more into the park, but after about 200 meters there was the dam and footbridge!!  Dells of the Eau Claire.  Ok.  Confession time.  I camped here the night before.  I pulled in around 14:00, poked around the park a bit, drove into the campground, looked for self registration and did not find anything.  Huh.  I looked online to make sure the campground was open.  But nobody here, no self registration.  Well, I setup anyway before it would get dark.  I’d been down to the park manager’s office and didn’t see anything to indicate the campground was closed.  Figured a ranger would be by later and could figure things out.  After 4:30 there was nobody left in the park – at all.  I spent a quiet and cold night in site #17.
     Now, I’m back at the park manager’s office the next day.  The first sentence of the first paragraph of the brochure tacked up on the board – the brochure I’d read the day before – Park and campground are open May 1 through Oct 31.  Ummm, shrug.

     If you’ve not been to this park I’d recommend it highly.  I’d been to the park about 17 years ago (minus a couple weeks) but did not get to see much of it.  Shortly after hitting the trail along the river the person I was with sprained her ankle cutting our hike short.  Today, I’d get to see a bit of it.
     Well, ok, this is not Wisconsin Dells, or the bluffs along the Kickapoo, but this is certainly one of Wisconsin’s hidden gems.  If you can’t get into this park, you should stay home and watching a shopping channel!
     I took a bit of break, shorter than I thought I would, but long enough in the main part of the park.  Took off my boots and put my legs up on a bench.  There were several people in the park, but not a multitude.  When I say several I mean like seven or eight.   One lady walked by with her dog.  She stopped and stared at me.  I noticed her looking and said “Hi.”  She replied, “Are you okay?”.   I laughed and told her I was just taking a break.  She quickly moved on.  I guess I looked a lot worse than I felt.  I actually felt pretty good.  Another couple (also with dogs) asked me if I was a thru-hiker and appeared to be mildly disappointed that I was not.
     I’d hit a point in the hike where my legs and sometimes my feet start to go to pieces.  Taking off my boots and rubbing my feet made a big difference and my legs, while tired, were not near cramping like they’d normally be.  Like they were on Saturday.  My body was deciding to behave itself today.
     Another 25 minute break and I was ready to roll.  In the park the IAT stays high on top of the bluffs, for the most part.  The North River Trail goes low and there is one particular rock down there that is known to frequently take out ankles.  Well, ok, one ankle, 17 years ago.   The viewing of the rapids and rocks was good today, but taking pictures from the north side of the river was tricky.  The low Autumn sun made getting good shots a bit difficult.
     The foot bridge (or high bridge as Gail calls it) is reached quickly if you’re not goofing around like I was.  The bridge affords some nice views of the river, especially off the west side of the bridge.

     The rest of trail is generally a good well used trail that picks its way around trees and rocks and closely hugs the river.  I’ve been on many river side trails in Wisconsin and the UP and this part of the trail is among the best.  The river flows quickly and shallow over rocks and even a small falls. The trail sticks very close to the river, sometimes no more than a couple feet from the edge.  The sounds, smell, and view of the water are right at hand.  Shortly after the footbridge crossing and before you hit Sandberg Island be sure to catch the hidden waterfall of a creek tucked nicely in a cove on the other side of the river.  I couldn’t get a good picture of it with the lighting and the position of the falls, but even if I did the pic would spoil the surprise.

     I made it back to the CTY Z parking lot at 13:22, but I wasn’t done yet.  I’d completed the Ringle segment in late July including the logging road and trail that head north from CTY N to Thornapple Creek Rd.  I’d not done the road segment along Thornapple Creek Rd.  That would a quick mile out and back to complete today’s hiking.

     The GPS read 13.6 miles.  Those miles included pavement, gravel, river crossings, high ridges, mud puddles, boardwalks, waterfalls, questioning stares, 30 degree temperature change, and a good deal of peace and quiet.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sage Creek Wilderness - South Dakota Badlands

KML File

     I’ve maintained, for most of my adult life, that I’ve always had to work harder than those around me to realize the same or lesser achievements.  Where I would bust my butt for 4 months to be able to bench press 215lbs my co-lifters would work just as hard to put up 305.  I’d put in two-a-days, train smart, eat right, just to break 1:25 for a half marathon, meanwhile my competitors would lay off the chips and soda for a week or so, just to have me hold them off in the last ¼ mile.

     Perhaps I'm weaker by nature, and sometimes certainly not as smart… but I work hard and push myself in just about everything I do.

     That would be important on this trip; very important.

     My friend William, no – my brother, really, and I set out on our first annual Men’s Trip and we picked a doozey – The Badlands of South Dakota.
     In younger years both of us were endurance athletes competing in long distance running and adventure racing.  We are no strangers to deprivation, physical struggle, and topo maps that lie. 

     The plan was to spend three nights in the Sage Creek Wilderness of South Dakota.  The Sage Creek area is 64,000 acres of grassland, dry wash, and formations.  Populated by goats, bison, and prairie dogs, this desolate land spoke to us as a grand adventure.
     The Sage Creek loop is between 17 and 22 miles depending upon the route taken.  We felt there would be little issue with making 8 miles a day, even with weight, and while challenging, this would be a challenge we could meet and still enjoy the trip.
     My first concern was that of water.  At my best I was 5’8” 155lbs and could go all day.  Today, 40lbs heavier and I can go all – four hours.  I sweat a lot more, can’t take the heat well, and I’ve never really been able to carry much more than 40lbs for very long.  My recent experience with day hikes left me very comfortable with the distances we’d need to cover, but not the weight.
      I figured I’d need at least 3 liters of water a day (a full 100oz bladder).  I knew I couldn’t haul all that water, so we planned to carry about 200oz and make a death march out of the last day, knowing there would be water at the end.

     Fully loaded each of us was between 47lbs and 49lbs with 8liters and 9liters of water respectively.  The weight was not overwhelming for me, but was quite heavy.  I practiced several times leading up to the big day, but it did not get any lighter.  Still, I knew I could count on William, a strong person, to help with some of the weight.  Plus, just 8 miles a day – I was confident I could do it. 

Day 1 – August 7th
     We left La Crosse, WI at 4:05am.  A quick 8.5 hours brought us to the visitor’s center, where we informed the staff of our plan.  At first, the look we received simply said, “Right.  And Santa Claus is picking you up at the airport on the other side.”   When we gave them the information about the path we had planned, our GPS points we expected to reach, and that we already had our maps marked, they felt much more comfortable and pretty much dismissed us.
     The weather that day was hot, near 90F in Wall, which mean the Badlands were around 95F.  This idea about “dry heat” holds merit.  The summers in Wisconsin have humid days that rival the deep South and there is a certainty that humidity hurts worse than heat.  But, for me, hot is hot.  When the temp gets above 68F – I’m looking for ways to stay cool.

     We hit the Conata picnic area, packed up, and we were on the trail by 14:30. 
     Our path would take us slightly south along some formations, then a climb up to Deer Haven, down the back side of Deer Haven, and then a couple more miles through a dry wash to a spot we thought would make a good camp site – Point 10 on our map.  We’d put in about 6.5 miles per the plan.
     I handed over about 3lbs of water to William right out.  He was willing, able, and I have no compunction about shifting weight elsewhere.   The going right off the bat was very smooth and easy.  A bit warm, but a cool breeze was blowing, we were both well hydrated, and the path was flat, smooth, and easy to navigate.
Conata picnic area

Deer Haven - half mile away

     Deer Haven.  Good heavens, Deer Haven.  On Google Earth, the National Geographic map, and the USGS top map, Deer Haven looks like a rolling plateau of grass and trees with a couple of moderate climbs up.  The hardest part appears to be finding a route down the backside, but even that showed, on the maps, that there were two places for a reasonable, walking descent.  The approach to get up Deer Haven, well, on the maps, it looked like there was a spine that could be climbed, then one tough spot through a fissure, and bingo, on top.  Couple hundred feet, shouldn’t be too tough, even with packs.
     Deer Haven.  By the time we did get on top we had added a vulgar adjective to that name.  The “spine” we were planning on is fronted with a 15ft sheer cliff.  Even had we been able to get up there, the “spine” is fractured by several crevasses that are not navigable without a ladder.
     We found a spot where we could scramble up about 8 feet of loose dirt to a grassy knoll.  From there we were able to hop a crevasse and go up about 3 feet to another grassy knoll, where we were cliffed out.  This happened a couple more times until we actually finally made it up to a larger grassy knoll.  But, now where?   I was already worn out.  The 45 minutes of climbing with 45lbs sapped my energy.  My left leg was already done in (sciatic issues – left leg is always the first to go).  Worse was – I was very warm and needed to drink.  Already, only 2 hours in it was obvious that 3liters was not going to be enough for today.
     We had a couple more small climbs to navigate before we hit a large plateau of grass and small trees.  This 100ft x 200ft area was a virtual oasis – minus the water.  William had to help carry my pack up the last couple of climbs.  I was beginning to have issues with the heat.  While he scouted I rolled out my foam sleeping pad and lay down underneath a tree.  Still trying to conserve water I hoped that the shade and rest would do me some good.

Halfway up - William scouting a route

     After about 40 minutes William came back and thought he had found a way to get near our Point 9, the pass we needed to find to get down the back side.  We went to an open spot and surveyed the spires that top Deer Haven.  Well, crap.  Nothing looked good.  Some were downright impassable.  We kept coming back to that one region as not just our best, but our only chance.  Unfortunately, this meant about 2 more climbs and 70 more feet.  These are hand over hand climbs, not walking climbs.  I was still feeling dizzy and weak, but we needed to move on.
     We made the first climb of about 25 feet reasonably easy.  I was able to get up it with my pack, but the second one I just couldn’t keep from falling backwards.  William had to get up that 45ft first with his pack and then with mine.  My inability to carry my weight started to take its toll on him as well.  The 95 degree day and the terrain of Deer Haven was having its way with us.
     Even so, we made the treeless top and could see where we’d come up.  We could also see where we were going.  There were going to be two descents and neither of them were walking descents.  We picked a spot where there was a longer 20ft drop where we could gently slide down in a fissure to a broken ledge of sorts.  Follow the ledge a few feet – very carefully – and then another 10ft slide into the dry wash.

Last climb to the top of Deer Haven
On top
     We were tanked, both of us.  My legs were starting to cramp and I’d stopped sweating up on top.  Heat exhaustion was coming quickly, for both of us.  We were not in a spot where we could camp, so we needed to push on.  The wash was essentially a canyon and this did jive with the lines on the topo map, mostly.  We were not surprised.  A hundred foot wall on the left and a 20 foot wall on the right, we kept marching.  We forgot completely about Point 10.  Mileage was no longer a factor today as we’d spend all our time and energy navigating Deer Haven.  After about a mile we found a grassy spot that could support two tents that was a few feet above the wash.  We made camp about 18:00.  Camp!

     William was not feeling well at all and went inside his tent for a bit.  I couldn’t lay down without my legs and back cramping, so I sat in my camp chair until the mosquitoes came out.
     I finished off my 3 liters for the day.  I needed more, but I felt I needed to conserve water.  I gnawed on some jerky, and eventually fell asleep.  William felt a bit better after an hour and actually made some food. 
     Coyotes.  And not far off.  Just as the sun set, the yipping started.  When I lived near Sparta, WI I lived among 300 acres of woods.  Coyote, turkey, deer would wander through my backyard.  Deer grazed next to my deck.  Coyotes would trot on the dirt path about 80yds from my back door.  This was a great song to fall asleep to.  And we slept well.

Day 2 – August 8th

Good Morning!

     The first day was far more difficult that we’d planned it would be.  I was unable to handle the weight of the pack in that terrain and the heat was more than I’d planned on.  Heat exhaustion is never fun, manageable, but not fun.
     I was looking forward to the 2nd day, though.  The forecast was for mostly cloudy skies and a high of 78F.  Now we’re talking.  We also would not have to scale any cliffs.  I was far more optimistic.  However, we did make a change of plans.  Today would have to be a long day.  Instead of camping at Point 16 in the Tyree Basin, we would have to push on through the Sage Creek Pass.  We’d setup camp there, then make the 4 mile hike to the car, get more water, and hike back to the camp at the pass.  This would be a long long day, but the prize at the end was water and a great night under the stars.

     We were up about 5:45 and made some breakfast on our pack stoves (I used a JetBoil).  The morning was humid and foggy.  The temp was probably already around 65F, but again oddly humid.  When that fog burned off this day was promising to be far more than 78F.  But, we’d get in several miles before the fog burned off, we could drink as much of that remaining 5 liters each as we wanted, and the going would not be as difficult.

    Unprepared.  Well no.  We had prepared plenty.  We read. We studied maps.  We studied satellite images.  We are not strangers to wilderness.  But the wilderness of the Badlands is unlike any other. 
     We started down the dry wash, which gradually became less and less dry as other dry washes met with it.  We followed the twists and turns, stepped around and over (and a couple times through) patches of muddy water.  These are not mud puddles you can just walk through.  They may only be shin deep of mud, but they’ll suck your boots right off.  Every time you need to pull or be pulled out of a mud puddle is more energy burned.  More water required.
     We found many coyote tracks.  They had been as close as 300yds from where we camped.

     The washes gradually became impassable and we needed to climb out of them and make our way across grassland between the turns of the washes.  When we looked at the topo maps for this were not too worried about that.  We knew we’d have to climb out of these washes, but we expected some gradual 4 or 5 foot climbs and maybe some 3 foot cliffs to hop up on.  Oh, yes, we understood there would be some higher walls that would be impassable, even some 20 or 30 foot walls.
     There were no easy climbs.  Every climb up and every climb down took more energy.  Most of the time we’d only have to drop or climb about 4 to 8 feet of steep grass, sand, and rock to avoid small ponds of muddy water, but each of those climbs – with 45lbs – in the gaining heat – in the humidity, quickly sapped my strength. Even William was stopping to take breaks, not just for me, but for him.  I was working hard and it was clear I’d run out of water in a few hours.  I was conserving water, but really need to be drinking more.
     The water in the washes was completely undrinkable.  I don’t believe it could even be filtered. There was just too much sediment.  However, it worked very well for getting a camp towel wet and putting on our heads.  By mid-morning we did this at every opportunity.  That definitely helped keep my core temp down.
     We had three points plotted that we wanted to reach, but standing on a higher grass area we were able to survey the basin and determined that to meet those points was going to be a great deal of work (now that we understood what the topo map was REALLY trying to tell us) and actually took us further from our goal.   Our goal was to get to the end of very long table, round the end of it and hit the Tyree Basin and the grassland.  We knew the grassland would be no cake-walk, but also understood it would be easier than this wash hopping we were currently engaged in.
     The grassy areas above the washes are generally easy to cross, but are not in any way like walking through a prairie field in Wisconsin.  Also not quite as tough as bushwhacking through the woods in Wisconsin either. Somewhere in between.  There is some kind of plant in that Badlands grassland that grows about 3 to 5 feet high, is made of the strongest DuPont rubber, has prickly seed pods, and enjoys taking your trekking poles out of your hands and tossing them aside. 
     We did come across two bull bison while navigating the basin.  The first we nearly walked right into.  We were walking in a wash looking for a good route up to the grass.  We came around a bend and not 30 feet way and five feet up in the grass was a bison happily munching.  We backtracked, took a less convenient route up that keep us about 50yds away.  I kept looking back to make sure he maintained his casual disinterest in us.

     By 11:00 the sun had burned off the fog and the day immediately became stifling.  We’d made about 4 map miles and about 6 real miles.   Six miles is usually about when I start getting tired on my 15lbs pack day hikes.  Most of those go anywhere from 8 to 15 miles, but at 6 miles is when my legs start reaching the point of no recovery.  I can still go on and go on well, but only a full nights rest will bring on recovery.  At this point, as well, I was starting to notice the signs of heat sickness – again.  Plus – only about 90oz of water left.  That would only last me another couple hours.
     We were still in good spirits, but I had to be honest with William and I told him I was becoming concerned.  I needed water and rest and of course that was a long long way away.  It was understood, as we understand each so well, that forward was the only way.  There was no chance of quitting because there was only one exit.  Still, I had to let him know my state of health.  Fortunately, my state of mind was strong. 
Break time!

who dat?

Well... now where?

     The wash walls did start to get easier to navigate.  We kept the table to our left (South) and basically ignored any points of reference to the right (North).  In terms of navigation the right would only bring us through more canyoned washes, more mud, and further from the end of the table.   We found ourselves in a bit of a rough spot.  We were closer to the table, but there were 20 and 30 foot canyons snaking from the edge of that to the wash we’d been following.  We really did not want to go right and fight our way through more ups and downs.

     We found a small formation that still provided a sliver of shade.  I unfolded my foam pad and tried to get some rest, stretch my legs, a couple trips to wet the towel and try to cool off.  Munched on some jerky.  William rested for a bit but then went off to scout.  About 20 minutes later he came back.  The conversation was basically:
W: So, this just looks bad.  But I followed a bison trail for a little bit and I think it might take us past those canyons. 
M: Yeah, so, there isn’t much climbing.
W: There is.  We’ve had worse, but it’s doable.  My thinking is that the bison want to head to the grassland.  We want to head to the grassland.
M: Right.  And they’ll take the path of least resistance.

     We followed the bison.  And brother – that was key.  The bison trail led up and over a few more wash walls and then into a very flat grassy area that finally gave way to flat rock and sand.  The table was mere yards away.  The end of the table was still a bit off – maybe another half mile and it looked like some nasty wash hopping would be necessary.  I started to get deflated.  Actually, I started to get sick.  I was breathing hard, sweating badly, and had to really coach myself to look up and pick up my feet.  My body was about done.  32oz of water left.
    The bison, oh the bison.  Smart animals.  The path took us right up to the wall of the table, but ducked into this narrow little channel, up an easy 30ft climb.  This whole area looked like the surface of the moon.  Just rocks.  Not one single plant.  Desolate.   We made that easy climb, came between two ridges of gray rock and stepped into the grassland.

     14:00 – Tyree Basin

     I cannot quite describe the mixed emotions that I had coming through that little bison pass.  We’d made it through what we’d expected to be the two toughest parts of the trip.  Really, in the sense of terrain they certainly are.  We’d made it to the Grasslands.  Far off to East was the Sage Creek Pass, then a few more easy miles (riiiggghhtt) to the car and water.
     At the same time, stepping out of that pass and into the grassland the sun immediately bore down on us.  There was no shade, not anywhere.  There were no formations anywhere.  The nearest tree was at least a half mile away.  The next one beyond that, another half mile. 
     And worse, on the map we could see that we’d have to cross another wash, at least three times.  We knew what that meant all too well.
     We took a moment to look around.  We checked the map, the compass.  We’d bypassed points 13, 14, 15 by taking the bison trail.  That saved us about 2 hours of brutal hiking.  Point 16 was where we had wanted to setup camp this night.  We spotted that, more or less, the vicinity of it anyway.  But, we’d skip that now.  We needed to make the pass and as fast as we could.  We were both going through water and I was fading quickly.  At this point I could only walk for about 10 minutes then I needed a 5 or 10 minute break just to get myself under control again.  I’d never been this bad from heat sickness before.  I’d also hiked about 8 miles now and was pretty much nearing my limit on a good day.  The temp was in the low 90s.  I was in a bad way.
     Through the grasslands we went.  William did his best to find routes that kept us out of the nastiest stuff, but that was not always possible.  I pitched in with the navigation when I could, but much of the time I spent my mental energy digging deep to keep moving.

Looking good!

Bison path to Johnson Creek

     At one point we were walking through grass and green stuff that towered over our heads.  We called out to each other to keep contact.
     Then we hit Johnson Creek.  At the point we hit Johnson Creek it is a steep canyon with 8 to 15 foot walls.  It looked completely impassable.  We had to traverse the rough and tangled greenery for nearly a half mile before we found a place we could get down and get back up again.  Compared to what we’d navigated this morning this was a very doable crossing.  Plus – there was mud water to help cool down.  14oz of drinking water left.  I needed to rest.  We’d been pushing hard for about an hour and I was very dizzy and hot.  Sick to my stomach.  I sat down on the edge of the wash – and the cramps in my legs nearly brought me over the edge and down into the wash.  William helped pull me back up.  I tried to lay flat, but then my back would cramp.  I finally found an odd position that let those major muscles relax.  We needed to push on.  So, I stood up, put on my pack and nearly fell over.  Nope – this was bad.  I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  I started to feel cold and I was cramping in many places and cramping badly.  On the Mosby pain scale (my good friend Mosby) I was hitting 8 and 9.  Trust me – I know pain.  This was pain.  William was scared for me in a big way.
     When I was able to communicate (at times I just felt too dizzy and sick to talk), we determined that we needed to get out of the sun.  My rain fly could be used as a standalone from the tent, but we couldn’t figure out how to get that to work.  We were nearly in a panic, but finally got back to reality.  We were still too far to leave me out here and have William make the next 7 miles to the car and get back.  Chances are he’d run into issues of his own trying to get 14 miles in this heat and terrain.  Very simply, I needed to be able to move on.  Maybe without my gear (any option I did not like at all).   We determined that we simply need to take an extended break, and protect ourselves from the sun as much as possible.
     I wrapped my legs in my rain fly, opened my shirt up all the way.  William went down and got my towel dripping wet.  I put that over my head and face and lay down to deal with the cramps best that I could.  I don’t cry, but I have to say that I was very close.  I was upset that this all seemed so overly dramatic.  I’d try to maintain a sense of decorum but when my left calf, left thigh, right thigh, left forearm, and right lat all cramp at the same time – tell me what you’d do. 
     William put his spare t-shirt over his head and we stayed like that for about 45 minutes.  I might have even slept a few minutes.  Before we got quiet I told him that “we should be concerned, but not alarmed.  I’m hurting pretty badly, but I don’t feel like I’m out of control.”   And that was true – mostly.  When those cramps hit it was tough.  But once again, there was no option but find a way forward.
     I had been in that situation once before back in 2005 in Olympic National Forest.  I had to hand over hand climb up nearly a mile long 1500ft climb.  My back and legs were in far worse shape back then (yes, they have been worse) and I’d reached my limit.  A freezing rain was falling and I was only a ¼ way up the climb when my left leg simply stopped working.  It was cramped and I could not put weight on it without it buckling.  I was alone – 4 miles and 1000ft of vertical from the car.  There was no other path.  No choice but to find a way forward.
     So we sat under the blazing sun in the Tyree basin.  William was very quiet as he sat there worried for his best friend.  I tried to be as quiet but the cramps would occasionally get the better of me.  I am sure that the goats and antelope and bison out on the Tyree basin thought some new horrible beast was inhabiting those lands.  They steered well clear of us.
     After a fashion I knew I was as good as I was going to be.  We quickly packed up and I gingerly made my way down into the wash and then back up again.  I was exhausted, cramping, and out of water. 
     Once across the wash we were able to pick up a bison trail.  This led us along some flat terrain with ankle high grass and very easy travel, perhaps as easy as the first mile yesterday.  We took a break near a short formation in the middle of the pass that provided the barest shade.  Anytime I tried to sit down I started to cramp, so we just pushed on.
     We came through the pass, lost the bison trail and headed for the fence line about 19:30.  We found a water source.  I’ll give no description of how or where, but we found water.  Lots of it.   Cold water.  It needed filtering and sterilizing and tasted like a warehouse, but it was cold.  We drank until we were nearly sick.  Filled up about 100z of filtered and sterilized water and immediately pitched one tent.  There wasn’t time to pitch another as the first of three thunderstorms raced across the region.
     We spent the next hour holding the tent down from the inside while the winds whipped around us.  The storm itself did little by us as was the case with the next two.
     The water took a few hours to work through me and ease the cramping.  By 23:30 the cramps were minor and infrequent and we both were able to get some sleep.

View from overlook into Sage Creek basin

Day 3 – August 9th
     We woke about 5:15 and packed up and headed for the car.  Breakfast was in Wall.  Following that we drove to the Sage Creek Campground on the west side of the wilderness.  We claimed a spot for two tents and then headed out to be tourists for the day.  We even went on an easy 4 mile hike.  My legs had recovered enough to handle that, but little more.  The day was mostly overcast and was only in the upper 70’s until later in the afternoon when the sun came out in force.  Still, a much cooler day than the two previous.
     We had a relaxing evening with camp food.  Had a bison nearly walk into the campground and a very pleasant night falling asleep to coyotes.

I Survived
     I’ll say it right out.  I have very mixed feelings about the trip.  We talked ourselves into understanding that the trip really was a success.  The trip had its failures, particularly for me. 
     The failures were our under-estimation of the terrain and our under-estimation of the water requirements.
     The success were many. 
     We had planned well.  No doubt.  We mapped our points.  Studied our routes.  We had a strong understanding of what we had on hand.  We know topo maps and what they show, but the Badlands present a different view.  Our tourist day we stood at an overlook that sits a couple hundred feet above the Sage Creek Basin.  We had a view of where we had been.  We pointed out to each other our route far below and miles away from where we stood.  The terrain looked imposing, but passable.  The terrain looked nothing like what it did when we were in it.  We began to understand what the topo map was telling us on Day 2.  That was both enlightening and frightening at the same time.  As we stood at that overlook a younger couple was nearby.  The wife said “wow, that look really rough down there.”  We turned, walked away, and in a low voice William said “She has no f***** idea.”  

     We navigated well.  That started with good planning.  Knowing our points and being able to recognize features when they presented themselves.  William’s navigation skills are much improved from our adventure racing days and they were damn good then.  Once we understood what the map was about in relationship to the kind of terrain we were in, we moved as well as we could.

     We communicated well.  At all times there was a consensus on the route to take.  When we got sick we were not bashful about it.  Hurt is hurt.  There was only one miscommunication on Day 1 climbing around Deer Haven.  I misunderstood a hand signal (which I should not have had I really been thinking at the moment) and it caused to me to try an unnecessary descent that cost me some skin and a nice bruise on my knee.  I didn’t notice the bruise until we made camp.

     We adapted well.  Yeah, that was the highlight of the trip.  We changed plans a couple times.  We did everything we could to get ourselves through there and safely out.

    And there is my one big regret.  The three day backpacking trip turned into a two day survival outing.  We tried, along the way, to enjoy the scenery, but it just wasn’t possible.  Oh we saw a few things like a dead goat head, two bison, baby rattlesnake, a large green snake, live goats, but we took few pictures and never really got a chance to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.  Had we been able to spend that night in the grassland perhaps we could have.

     I’m also a little dismayed in my abilities, but they are what they are and are not likely to dramatically improve in my lifetime.  Maybe a little, but some of that is the new me and is not correctable.  I know I cannot carry weight.  If the pack is above 30lbs on moderate terrain I’m in trouble.  If the pack is above 15lbs in difficult terrain I’m in trouble.  I know I can carry 45lbs for about 3 easy miles and then I’m done for the day.  I know I can carry 30lbs on moderate to easy terrain for about 6 miles and then I’m done for a couple hours.  I know I need readily available water sources.  I know I wilt in the heat.  Hiking in 85F or above is not a good idea except for short 4 to 6 miles jaunts where water will be available.
     I’m also not very pleased that my body turned on me as badly as it did.  I’m not really embarrassed.  You get heat sickness and well, you’re sick, simple as that.  Nothing to be embarrassed about.  I already know there are stronger, faster people in the world.

     William had made the comment on the first night that through it all we may have demonstrated some of that stuff that makes the elite military operators what they are.  I responded that I think there was some truth to that.  We are not able to reach the physical achievements that they can.  They are stronger and faster (younger, smarter, better looking, underpaid, and under-appreciated).  Still, we managed to push ourselves through some of the most unforgiving terrain and through difficult physical issues and came out the other side.

     This experience will be one that I will grapple with for some time, maybe years, to come to grips with how I feel about it.  I do know I wish we’d taken more pictures.

Final Thoughts
     The Badlands of South Dakota are no joke.  The name itself says it all, Bad Lands.  Throughout history only the most desperate or the most careless have travelled through there.  If I were younger and in the physical condition I was in 15 years ago I might have had a better time of it.  But, I’ll say this.  If you are going to go through Sage Creek Wilderness or the other large wilderness areas in the Badlands, understand these things.
-          There really is no drinkable water.  Period.  If you need more than 2liters on a 95F day, don’t go.
-          There are no gradual inclines, or at least precious few.  The lines on the topo map are 20ft elevation lines.  In most parts of the world, even the mountains, wide spacing between elevation lines means gradual ascent/descent.  In the Badlands this means two 20ft walls.
-          You need to be able to carry weight, especially since you’ll need lots of water.  50lbs or more, even if you travel light.  We had very little gear.  Very little food.  My pack was 28lbs without water. It was 47lbs with water.
-          If you fade in the heat easily don’t go.  Summer days can be hot or cold, all in the same day.  They can be humid and dry.  There is no shade from 11:00 to 16:00.  None.

    I’ve been to the Badlands twice.  The first time with my wife and kids as tourists.  We did one of the easy 2 mile hikes.  This trip was my first time getting in deep and it will be the last.  That land is simply beyond my capabilities and so much is my regret at that.  The Badlands are a truly awesome spectacle and cannot be appreciated from the car or the short trails along Hwy 240.  Those trails, the overlooks, the view from the car are nothing like being in the wash itself and having formations on either side with no view to anything else.  Knowing you are at least a couple miles away from anything and you couldn’t navigate that couple miles if you wanted to.

     If you go to the Badlands Wilderness be fit, be prepared, be smart, and for the love of Pete – take pictures.