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Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014-11-8 Seven Fingered Jack

Colin and I hatched the plan for a weekend backpacking trip early in the week, and by Friday we had settled on Leroy Creek Basin North of Leavenworth. The goal would be to climb Seven Fingered Jack and Mount Maude, then whatever else we had time for. The Forecast looked decent until Sunday which suggested rain showers, likely in the afternoon - so we prepared to pack out early Sunday for some sport climbing near Vantage before returning to Seattle. Work and traffic made for a late departure and a longer drive than we had hoped.
We pulled up to Phelps Creek Trailhead at 9 o'clock and were on the trail by 9:30. Despite passing faint trails just past two of the first few creeks we had no trouble locating the climbers path after crossing Leroy Creek, the widest of the bunch. We experienced minimal bushwhacking, but we were both exhausted from a long day so we set up camp at the first flat spot we found, about 600' below the upper basin. It was well past midnight by the time we had eaten and crawled into bed, and we agreed to forego the early start.

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As we started out from camp just before 10 am it was clear that we had wasted the best hours for snow travel, and with each subsequent post-hole it became all the more obvious that we would not have time to make both summits. During a rest stop at the campsites in the upper Leroy Creek Basin, we decided to first tackle 7FJ and then let the cards fall where they may. We could see a few different route options, but there was just enough snow cover to further disguise the slope degrees from below.

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As we neared the saddle the east-to-west traverse below the finger cliffs looked appealing, however it would require some travel through potential avy terrain. The West Ridge looked steep, but do-able, and with a slightly safer approach. After crossing an ~40 degree snow field and prodding Maverick through a sketchy scramble we had gained the ridge. Halfway to the summit we agreed that this would not be a fun descent route due to steep exposure and loose rock. 10-20 mph wind blasted us from the west as we neared the summit.

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Crampons and ice axes came out for the final 100 feet or so. Views were outstanding from the top, but howling wind and a quickly setting sun chased us away before we could even get the motivation to search for a register. We traversed toward Maude on the descent and we were glad we did. The 2-3 feet of week-old snow had baked for hours in the sun, making for a slow and painful descent into the trees. We stopped briefly for the sunset and cursed our lazy selves for getting such a late start on the day. We returned to camp well after dark and were passed out by 9.

Mount Maude. We got a late start and worked for 6 hours through 3000' of softening snow, finally reaching the summit of Seven Fingered Jack with to little time to continue to our next planned destination. Mount Fernow Seven Fingered Jack Sunset

We got about 3 inches of snow overnight which thankfully did not turn to rain until we were nearly back to Phelps Creek Trail. The waterfall on Leroy Creek, which we had only heard on our way up Friday night, was gushing when we passed. The largest puddle in the road had grown almost too large for my tiny escape to pass it. Back in Leavenworth the rain had subdued. Vantage was bathed in sunshine, as usual, allowing for us to get a few hours of climbing in at The Feathers before sunset.

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20141109_161457 The Feathers

The Teardrop Cronicles Part 3: Palo Duro to New Orleans

We rolled into Palo Duro Canyon State Park just after closing time, and set up camp in the late arrival area. We gave up on cooking dinner within seconds of turning on a light, as stick bugs and giant mosquitos swarmed the trailer in biblical fashion. The next morning we entered the park and set up in our reserved campsite on the canyon floor.

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Day 6

It was already blazing hot by 9:30am so we started with a hike on one of the shorter trails, planning to visit the air-conditioned visitors center during the hottest time of day. The deep red walls of clay in the canyon provided stark contrast against mostly clear, blue skies. Over the short hike we encountered a bearded dragon and a tough little praying mantis that seemed ready for a fight. Returning to camp soaked in sweat, we raced back up to the visitors center at the canyon rim.

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The Palo Duro Canyon visitors center is filled with interesting exhibits covering prehistoric geology and formation of the canyon, local flora and fauna, conservation efforts, and native american history. This was the site of the historic battle which forced the last rebelling native tribes in America onto reservations. A 20+ year old documentary playing in the center is filled with suspicious interpretations of the events leading up to and during the infamous battle.

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While looking around, we heard several people mention their concern over what they called storm clouds moving in. All Steffy and I could see were a few fluffy white clouds, but considering the warnings of "when it rains, it floods here" we proceeded to camp for some lunch and continued keeping an eye on the sky.
Sure enough it was pouring a few minutes later and we quickly agreed to get the hell out while we had a chance. We had payed for two nights, neither of which we would use, but there were no regrets when rain turned to hail about a mile outside of the park. We decided to get as far as we could toward Louisiana and after about 3 hours of driving, we finally outran our scary Texas hailstorm.
We stopped outside of Wichita Falls for dinner at the Rib Crib. Steffy and I don't eat much meat, and we are somewhat choosy when we do, but we could not visit Texas without eating some Texas barbeque. The Rib Crib delivered that, with a side of everything in the house. We drove well into the night and stopped after Houston for the first of many stays in what we came to call "Chateau Walmart".

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Day 7

Besides the road quality off the interstate, Louisiana is a pleasure to drive through. In particular, I enjoyed the parallel raised roadways that seemed to stretch straight out forever over the endless bayou.

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We pulled into New Orleans in time to check in at our awesome camp on the canal. After set up and dinner we headed downtown to explore NOLA night life. Even on a Thursday the French Quarter was popping when we arrived. We started with "the strongest drink in the French Quarter" which was more than enough to take us through the night, seeing how an open container on the street is completely legal here. There are solo cups at the door of every bar, so you can leave the glass behind and take your drink with you. Every bar had a live music act, as did nearly every corner. Everywhere we looked, there was something interesting to watch. We finished the night fairly early with a gator dog and some french fry nachos, which we ate on a balcony overlooking the party in the streets below.

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Day 8

We spent the entire next day exploring New Orleans starting with a stroll through Audubon Park. If you can block out the houses lining the edge of the park and ignore the hordes of runners and families at play, and focus on the overwhelming sound of waterfowl and insects - Audubon Park feels like a jungle. The trolly ride into downtown was spent people-watching (We have decided that NOLA is the people-watching capital of America) and gawking at the massive plantation style homes lining St. Charles Avenue.

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In the daylight, Downtown was nearly unrecognizable from the night before. A different kind of tourist filled the sidewalks and shops while crews scrubbed down the alcohol stained streets with soapy water. One thing that hadn't changed were the live music acts which appeared in every bar and on every street corner.

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I found it somewhat disorienting walking around Downtown NOLA, as I have never been somewhere so close to a large body of water while unable to see it from anywhere more than 100 feet away. We made a quick visit to the shores of the Mississippi River, then explored historical Jackson Square and Lafayette Square before heading to the Civil War Museum at Confederate Memorial Hall. While worth the trip and entrance fee, I found the museum to be lacking in historical context. The exhibits seem to have been diluted of depth and meaning in an effort to maintain political correctness, very much the opposite of what we had come to expect from our time in New Orleans.

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