Thursday, July 21, 2011

Goat Packing Hurricane Creek Wilderness, Arkansas: 4 days in Oct. 2007

Pat,Nile,Piton,Thor,and Mona
Back in the early 1970's John Mionczynski started using goats to pack equipment into the rugged terrain of the high Wind River Range in Wyoming.  John is founder of Wind River Pack Goats in Wyoming.   My cousin, Jim Protiva, met John and told me about him.  I was curious and eventually bought my first four goats from a local small goat milk producer here in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I bought two Saanens and two Alpines and raised and fed them from a bottle from birth.  The goats imprint on their provider much like ducklings do and from then on you are their mama and they follow you everywhere.  I took the goats along with my daughter Annie and her friend Olivia, along with Olivia's dad Darryl on a four day hike through Hurricane Creek Wilderness in Arkansas.

Hurricane Creek Wilderness is one of my favorite spots in Arkansas.  The creek itself is beautiful and the topography interesting.  It would be a nice place to take family, friends, and goats and that's what we did back in October 30, 2007.  We chose Fairview Campground off of Hiway 7 as our starting point and loaded the four goats up with about 15 to 20 lbs of gear each.  The Ozark Highlands trail will be our path and it runs along Hurricane Creek and up over some of the mountain ridges giving some nice variation in terrain and views.

Everyone's Packing

Annie and Olivia playing in Hurricane Creek
We had never hiked this trail before and as we were walking a section of the trail that was actually a road, we came across a gate with an old wooden sign arched over the gate.  It read, "Mirkwood: Beware of Spiders". Well, being Halloween and all, it really sent a shiver down our spines.  We then came upon an old creepy vacant house in the middle of nowhere.  It was really getting exciting and we had much fun playing it up and scaring the kids.

Annie finds a nice way across the creek
We met some backpackers on the trail and they were really suprised to see goats carrying packs and following right along.  They asked what they were carrying so we had to really rub it in.  We took some pleasure in giving them the list of great food these goats were burdened with.  They just shook their heads in disbelief. 

Olivia over dries her socks by the fire

When the pack goats are taken from their home, they like to stay close to "mama".  That can be a problem at times, but mostly they are a lot of fun and provide much entertainment.  While packing, the goats usually stay in single file and follow directly behind me.  But sometimes they have "power" struggles and jostle for position amongst the group.  This can be challenging at times and I have to show them whose boss and get them back in line and under control.  Olivia made the ultimate goat "mistake".  You see, she didn't know how goats relate to each other and show dominance.  As Thor came up to her, she gave him a big push on the head.  Well a push is "game on" in goat language.  She then made her second mistake.  She turned her back on Thor.  Well, you know what happened.  Thor rose up on his hind legs and stood 6 1/2 feet tall and lowered all his weight through his forehead with pinpoint accuracy right on Olivia's behind.  She flew about 8 feet.  We all had a big laugh once we relized she was alright. 

Olivia and Darryl

Annie and Pat
I rate this hike highly and would recommend it for all, young and old.  We had a great four days working our way through the forests ablaze with fall colors.


Exploring Gulf Coast Barrier Islands in Driftboat

Five Days in April 2008

As we prepared the boat for launch a sun wrinkled local man walked up and asked, "Are ya'll going out today?" Yes Sir.  "In that boat?" Yes Sir.  "Your going to die.  There is a 6 foot chop out in the bay."  The wind was blowing about 30 knots and it did look pretty gnarly out there but we had driven all the way from Little Rock and had to give it a try.  Darryl and I had discussed the situation prior to this warning and had decided to go ahead and  see what it was like out there.  We could always turn around if it got too rough for us.  We finished loading the boat and parked the truck and trailer at the Hard Rock Casino parking lot in Biloxi Mississippi. 

Map of our trip
The barrier islands south of Biloxi consisted of Horn, East and West Ship, Deer, and Cat Islands.  They are about 8 to 10 miles off the coast of Alabama. Our plan was to motor out toward East Ship Island in our 16 foot wooden drift boat and camp.  We could then explore East Ship and nearby islands and hopefully eat some fresh fish along the way. Our 5 hp Nissan four stroke motor could run about 100 miles on 3 gallons of gas so we had plenty of range.  It gets better gas mileage than my truck! 

Soon after launching we turned the boat into the wind and hit 2 foot chop.  The wind was still very strong.  I brought a GPS and could track our progress and keep us on route.  There was a lot of spray in the air and visibility was about 2 miles.  As we headed toward East Ship Island, I kept an eye on the GPS and it consistently gave me an ETA of 11 hours to the island.  That would put us there after midnight.  My 5 hp motor just couldn't push through the wind and waves.  After trying for about 30 minutes we gave it up and went to plan B, which was to head to Deer Island downwind only a mile and camp there for the night and hope for better weather. 

Our first camp on Deer Island

It was a good decision.  We caught supper and had a pleasant time fishing and making camp.  The next morning the wind had subsided and we thought we had a good chance of making it to E. Ship Island.  We loaded the gear and headed out.  The GPS gave us favorable readings with an ETA of 3.5 hours.  The waves started out small but grew as we headed out into the bay.  After about 30 minutes of motoring we were in some nasty confused water with 6 to 8 foot waves.  I was nervous.  Maybe the local's warning was legit.  We were literally the only boat I saw on the bay that day except for a 40 ft. sailboat.  No other small craft but this driftboat.  I had never been out in the Gulf with this boat and I didn't know how it would handle the conditions. 

All senses alert as we negotiate the nasty conditions

 I was quickly gaining confidence in the boat as it rode wave after wave like a champ.  I soon found out just how maneuverable the boat is.  I could quickly turn the boat into a wave, ride up the side, and turn it sideways down the wave to keep it from slamming down the backside of the wave.  It was one hell of a ride.  We were both soaked from spray and had to bail the boat out three of four times.  It was so rough a ride there were no piss breaks, if you had to go you just had to let it run down your legs.  We finally made visual contact with the island after two and a half hours.  Just over three hours we made landfall.  I was one happy fellow and really felt a strong sense of accomplishment. 

West tip of East Ship Island(good fishing!)
East Ship Island is a barren isolated spit of sand and felt more so with the weather we had.  We had landed on a sandy beach on the eastern tip and quickly noticed the osprey nests not too far from shore.  The park service had placed a do not enter fence around the rookery to conserve the nexting area.  We rested a bit and then loaded up to find I suitable camping area and headed toward the western tip of the island. We set up camp and went off to fish, landing several nice speckled trout.

Our camp on the western tip of East Ship Island

East Ship Island Pelicans. This is the rough water we road in on.

The next morning we decided to head east to Horn Island.  It looked to be around 4 miles away and the weather had turned very nice.  We made Horn without a problem.  The water had turned from the muddy confused water into calm clear tropical water.  We got our fishing gear out and fished the northern bank of Horn, looking for a nice camp spot along the way.  About midway on the north shore of Horn we came across the ruins of an old military ammunition bunker. 
Baby bull shark caught on Horn Island

We decided to camp there.  We set up camp and started fishing and it was good.  We caught speckled trout, redfish, and one shark.  We only kept a couple of fish for supper and released the rest.  Darryl and I motored around the island and into lagoons and shallows.  The driftboat proved to be an incredible exploring machine, needing very little gas and very quiet. It was able to handle a huge variety of conditions from 8 inch deep water to 8 foot waves.

Cruising along the north shore of Horn Island

Approaching storm from the South

The next morning brought another stormy day and wind from the north.  We were headed home that day and it would be another bumpy ride heading straight into the wind.  This was our first trip to the Gulf Coast Barrier Islands and we would eventually make two more.  We were able to see these wonderful islands before the BP oil spill that has caused so much environmental and economical damage to the area.  I haven't gone back since the spill.  I just don't want to see the damage.  Maybe someday.

1) Mosquitos are bad! Camp near tip of island away from vegetation and where there is wind.
2) Bring a strong tent that can handle the wind.
3) No water on Horn or East Ship.  You must bring it all.
4) Make sure the boat is well secured to shore or anchor (we almost lost ours).
5) Be prepared for sand in EVERYTHING including food.
6) The driftboat was perfect for what we did.
7) Camp high enough to keep tides off your gear.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yellowstone Winter Hike February 2003

Bruce near Douglas Knob
Eight Days in the Yellowstone Backcountry

My buddy Bruce K. and I had talked about doing some winter backcountry hikes out west.  Our first try at it was in Rocky Mountain National Park.  We were huddled in the shadow of Long's Peak at 11,500 feet in a snow cave while a blizzard produced white out conditions for 18 hours.  Neither of us knew many jokes and let me tell you we got some kind of bored, except for the adrenaline you get from knowing you could get buried alive in the snow cave. We learned a lot on that trip but not enough to prepare me for our second winter hike, 48 miles through Yellowstone's backcountry in February.  It tested me both physically and mentally.  I was pulling a gear sled loaded with 160 lbs of food, cameras, climbing gear, etc.  Too much gear!  I brought a sleeping bag rated at 0 degrees.  Not good enough for Yellowstone winters.  To make matters worse my sleeping bag turned into a solid block of ice the third day from my body vapor.  I needed a vapor barrier for the bag.  We were in tough conditions for eight days, long enough to get to my psyche.  The worst of it was a frigid -32 degree night.  My sleeping bag was useless and I was worried about making it through the night.  The only insulation I had was my Marmot 8000 meter expedition jacket.  I am certain it saved my life that night.  I woke up to frozen toes and heels on both feet the next morning.  I was 3 months healing both physically and emotionally from the trip.  My toes were numb for months and I had acquired post traumatic cold syndrome (meaning I hated being cold for a long time after that trip).  But it was a trip that I will remember forever.  It was tough but it was also magical.  I hope you enjoy the video.  Yellowstone Backcountry in the Winter of 2003  In the video there is a caption that states I left 60 lbs of gear at Three Rivers Park.  My gear sled and weight I was pulling became too much of a burden and I became aware that I just might not make it out if I kept it up.  My energy level was getting dangerously low (we weren't getting enough calories to make up for the thousands we were burning every day).  I left my video camera there, thus the reason the video stops at that point and the rest of the trip is a slideshow.  I loaded my backpack with a lighter load of 60 lbs and continued on from Three Rivers Park.  We met our pickup at Bechler Ranger Station three days later and we were greeted with hot coffee and smoking snowmobiles and were rushed to the nearest steakhouse for a 24 oz steak that I consumed in about 5 minutes.  The park service loaded my gear on horses in August of that year, six months after our trip, and mailed it to me for a fee of $32.  The US government gets a big star for that.  It took that long for the 10 feet of snow to melt in order for the horses to make it to the gear. The battery on my video camera was still charged (Sony TRV-900).  I couldn't believe it.  Two weeks after our trip another group did the same route.  They were hit by extremely cold weather.  I talked to one of the members of that trip and he said the temperature got down to a -52 degrees and sent three of the hikers to the hospital with severe frostbite. We were lucky.

Pictures Below:

1) Cold management is tedious and crucial.  Minor habits make a big difference.  Keeping gloves dry and hands from freezing takes two pair of gloves, switching from a pair under your jacket to your hands every couple of hours.  Poly liner socks also help a lot in keeping feet warm.
2) Go to Yellowstone in winter with the best and warmest sleeping bag available with a vapor barrier. I would not do it again without a legitimate -40 sleeping bag and vapor barrier.
3) Sleep with your boots in your sleeping bag on the coldest nights.  My frozen boots froze my feet one morning, instantly.
4) Your body is your only drier out there.  If things get wet, they stay frozen unless you can dry them by placing them under your jacket.
5) The thermal waters of Yellowstone (Bechler Canyon had many) make for some very difficult travel.  When the snow is 10 feet deep, every warm water river and creek creates a 10 foot deep chasm that you must cross.  We spent a lot of energy locating snow bridges in order to cross these barriers and crossing over these snow bridges was stressful and dangerous.
6) Keep your body on the cold side on purpose.  You do not want to overheat and produce sweat while traveling.   Whatever gets wet gets really cold against your body.
7) Emergency fires are very hard to start even with fuel when the temps reach in the -20s and below.
8) Even the best gas stoves have trouble burning when the temps plunge into the -30s.  Bring more than one stove.  We had 3 stoves and 2 ended up not working after a few days.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Heading home from Maroon Bells, Colorado
Without really knowing it, it happens.  Someone has just changed the direction of your life forever.  There was no planning, no decisions to be made, no commentments or contract.  It happens because of a dad that took you on your first canoe trip, a friend that asked you to play tennis and a teacher that spent time after class to teach you something that really mattered.  The influences from those around you are only seen later in life when all the pieces come together and you finally get it.  In 1972, I was invited to go on a two month drive with my snake hunting buddy and best friend Bobby through New Mexico, Arizona , and Colorado. I was just out of seventh grade.  Dick Kreutzer was Bobby's dad and Dick's dad was the first forest ranger  in the United States.   I heard some great stories about the wild west, Indian tribes, the gold rush, mountain men, and that elusive jack-a-lope .  That trip was burned in my soul forever and I can still recognize places I had visited on that trip of discovery 30 years later.  It was a  trip that opened my life to one of discovery and adventure that I still subscribe to today. I was able to write Dick a note before he died to tell him just that.  The Portal is my place to share some of my adventures as I continue to explore this incredible planet home and if you're lucky spark some interest within for the great outdoors, just as Dick sparked my interest so many years ago.