Utah with the Nikon Z7

We blast over the divide and into Utah for a long weekend and find a truly stunning camping spot overlooking a canyon just outside of Canyonlands National Park. We might end up just sitting here the whole weekend.

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I was able to score a Nikon Z7 w/ Nikkor Z 24-70mm zoom lens to test for the weekend. All photos from this post are taken with that camera, and more detailed review follows (warning, I’m not a gear junkie, it’s more of an aesthetic review than a technical).

We do end up leaving the camp to do the Syncline Trail in Canyonlands NP. This trail is awesome. It circles the Upheaval Dome, the origin of which is unknown (cool). First we hike down into a canyon and along a riverbed, then up a boulder field and back to the start. It’s certainly my kind of hike: the trail isn’t always obvious, scrambling required, lots of up and down through amazing scenery and very few people.

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The Devil’s Garden & Primitive Trail in Arches NP also has the scenery but is much more popular. The Devil’s Garden Trail is very busy, makes sense there are a ton of arches in a short span. For being a popular trail in a National Park I’m pleasantly surprised by the ruggedness of some sections, especially the ones walking on and over rock faces. Taking the Primitive Trail makes this hike a loop (yay!) and adds more of a challenge with steep rock climbs and less obvious trail. Despite the warnings of such our hike on this trail turns into more of a rescue mission. K pulls an 80 year old woman up a rock face (kudos to her for making it that far!), I guide a group of hikers down a steep section of rocks and we help a number of people re-find the trail. It’s kinda fun, makes me feel like I know what I’m doing.

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One of the days we switch it up with a bit of 4WDing down the valley we are camped by and under a giant rock. We also explore Moab a bit - I found a $4 flannel shirt in a thrift shop, that’s my highlight from town.

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On the way back to Boulder we stop to do the Professor Creek and Mary Jane Trail. The trail follows a creek up a deeper and deeper canyon and ends with a waterfall (we didn’t go that far, just to the canyon). It’s really fun to splash through the creek. There isn’t really a trail and we end up follow footprints in the sand to make sure we are going the correct way. It would be easy to get lost in these canyons and if it was raining a flash flood would be dangerous here. Getting back is easier, just follow the main branch of the creek back the way you came.

Using the Nikon Z7 for the weekend was a fun treat (my primary cameras for hiking & backpacking are the Sony A6000 or Sony A7R ii). I don’t often use zoom lenses so I had to retrain myself how to take photos. I don’t have to walk around to get different shots, I can zoom! As fun as the zoom is I really enjoy using prime lenses, I feel like they are more “natural” to how my eyes perceive the world. Due to habit most of the pictures in the post are taken at 24mm, the widest the lens goes, because I forgot the lens could zoom. The exceptions are the shot with the car which is at 38mm and the shot of the arch which is at 36mm.

The camera has a nice feel in the hand, the grip is more robust than the Sony’s, and has a nice look to it. I’m not fully dialed in with the Nikon control menus but I found it easy to navigate and use when I wanted to change settings. For the kit lens I found the Nikkor 24-70mm to take excellent pictures. The biggest con for me is the weight (why I love the Sonys so much), I think the Z7 would be good on day hikes but it would be too much for a longer trip.

If you go:

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Winter Camping

I don’t winter camp. I love the idea in theory but in practice the long hours of darkness cooped up inside a tent just put me off it. Get me a hut with a woodburning stove and I’ll walk/ski/snowshoe miles back to it.

Living this close to the mountains it kills me that prime backpacking season is 3, maybe 4 months max. After a few weeks of coaxing I finally convinced K that we should try it. She’s from the desert, this is probably the last thing she ever saw herself doing.

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At the Moffat Tunnel trailhead , the gateway to the James Peak Wilderness, there are some camping options within a mile of the trailhead. Seems reasonable, close enough to escape if we can’t handle it but far enough away to make it feel worth it.

We headed in midday and found a nice spot between some pines and packed down a nice spot for the tent. After everything was all set up we snowshoed around the area and found a side trail leading up to a frozen waterfall.

About 4pm the sun set in our little valley and we got into the tent. Only 15 hours until the next ray of light…

The temps dropped to the teens and the wind howled through the trees but we stayed nice and cozy in the tent armed with books, crosswords and some warming stout.

I’d do it again, but I think I’d still take the hut and woodburning stove.

If you go:

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Endless Summer - An Aussie Road Trip

One of the biggest perks of being married to an Australian is, you guessed it, having a great excuse to visit Australia. This time around given my work schedule and K writing up her thesis we’re setting off for over a month.

We spent the first few days in Melbourne and then headed off on a meandering road trip (our favorite kind) through the mountains and along the coast to Sydney.

As we drove north through the Yarra ranges we stumbled upon Cathedral Ranges State Park. I’m certainly happy we did: a great park with hiking, camping and backpacking options. We decided to head up Ned’s Gully to Ned’s Peak. About 5.5 miles round trip and Ned wasn’t messing around, his gully is pretty steep. I love when you get many different microclimates on a trail and this one did not disappoint. A thick fern forest in the gully, rock scrambling and dry eucalyptus forest in the middle and a view at the top. We didn’t have time to take the trail all the way up to Cathedral Peak and Razorback Ridge but that looked like some rock-hopping fun to be had.

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The next day we drove to Kosciuszko National Park to summit Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia at 7,310ft. I wasn’t expecting a hard hike but I wasn’t expecting it to be this easy. The trail is an old road, very flat and graded the whole way to the top. The views at the top were spectacular. Open alpine peaks with views in every direction.

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We camped just down the road from the trailhead and it was a clear, crisp night and the stars, which are normally phenomenal in Australia, were even more stunning than normal.

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For the next three days we poked up the coast towards Sydney. Lots of little places to camp along the many beaches. Australia, you know how to make a good beach.

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A Boundary Waters 4th of July

I love the Boundary Waters, the ~8hr drive is prohibitive, but definitely worth it. This will be my first time in the late spring early summer, a little nervous about the “horrific” populations of biting insects I’m supposedly going to encounter.

Our itinerary is pretty cruise-y, perfect for a group trip: lots of time at camp, lots of time for side explorations. Our garage sale canoe is definitely not the lightest for the portages, but hey, it beats paying for a rental. If I was doing a longer more demanding trip I’d for sure want something more lightweight but for this trip it fits the bill.

We put in at Round Lake just before lunch and began our paddle. The first night we stayed on an island on Snipe Lake (an island!). This is why I love the BWCA, you can stay on islands, which just feels cool.

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With all the time at camp I even managed to proof and bake a loaf of yeast bread paired with homemade raspberry jam. It. Was. Awesome. Good thing the island we’re on appears to be free of bears.

On night two we stayed on the skinny Cross Bay Lake. Our campsite was a short scramble up the rocks with a great swimming hole right out front.

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On night three at Ham Lake we got a great campsite on a rocky point in the middle of the lake.

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Every night around dusk we had turtles coming up the rocks towards our campsite and digging in the dirt. I’m assuming they are trying to lay eggs and we gave them as much privacy as possible.

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And the bugs that were supposedly going to carry me off? Didn’t happen. Sure there were bugs but other than 30 min before/after sunset they really weren’t a problem.

If you go:

Floating on the Wisconsin River

Back at it with my uncle. This time a quick one night trip canoe camping on the Wisconsin River (gotta play with that new canoe!)

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We put in early afternoon at the public launch off of Highway A on Indian Trails Parkway, about 5 miles south of the Wisconsin Dells. Our take out point was about 10 miles downriver off of Levee Rd. About half of the distance twists and turns through the Pine Island State Wildlife Area.

Fairly low key trip, saw a few eagles, hawks, herons and only a few people. As always, great to get out of the city for a day. Plus, I got to test out my new Vargo woodstove. It’s fairly fiddly but I think with some practice it’ll be a cool little stove.

 
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Blue Mounds Bike Camping

One of the nice things about living in Madison is bike camping. Our house is 2 blocks off the Capital City Trail which leads out of town in multiple directions, many of which have bike-up camp sites starting 20-30 miles out of town. It’s especially nice when on Friday you see a good weather window and you can decide on the spot to head out for a night.


We chose to go west on the Military Ridge Trail and camp at Blue Mounds State Park, which is just over 30 miles from us. You could certainly choose to glamp it up on the way out (as we did) and stop at many places. We grabbed dinner at the Grumpy Troll Brewery and Pub, about 6 miles before the campground. Nothing like a good pizza and a couple beers after biking.

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On the way home we stopped at the Tuvalu Coffee House, a little more than halfway home, for coffee and some baked goods. Made it back in the afternoon with plenty of time to chill and enjoy the rest of the afternoon sun on the porch. My kind of weekend.

If you go: