Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tell Old Man Winter to take a hike!

I've enjoyed reading the headlines lately. From Michigan the Kalamazoo Gazette reads,"Arctic blast closes roads, cuts power." From New York, "Frigid winds whip into the Northeast." From Washington state, "Mountains have been buried by snowstorm; freeway closed again." From our headquarters in Telluride, CO, "Whiteout blizzard closes roads."

Unless you live in Tampa Florida, where the temperature is now 78 degrees, you are most likely bundled with hat and gloves and gratefully accepting the minty breath of Old Man Winter. Things will change however, and even the most die-hard winter enthusiasts will begin to dream about warmer days. For myself, I'm already feeling the first pangs of longing for the warm desert country of northern Arizona and southern Utah. It's lucky for me that we have the Red Rock Country tour, the best way that I know of to warm up, and to tell Old Man Winter to "take a hike."

Don't tell anyone, but he actually joins us for a bit of vacation when his work is done. It seems that Old Man winter is a fan of warm sandstone and bubbling desert brooks just as much as we are. Shhhh.

From the quiet desert paths of Sedona, to the bustling recreation center of Moab, home to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, the region offers some of the most unique topography found anywhere in the world. We’ll enjoy stunning views of imposing sandstone arches, feel the cool breath of hidden canyon walls painted with desert varnish, and delight in the sweet aroma of desert wildflowers warming along the banks of perennial streams. Spring is our favorite time to explore the desert for many reasons. Cabin fever aside, anxious little streams cascade from the region’s high alpine peaks and breathe new life into an otherwise arid land. Dry, sandy riverbeds become refreshing bubbling brooks, and the entire region springs alive with blossoms of every color, a sight that only a beholder can truly appreciate. Non-coincidentally, we timed this year’s tour to coincide with the height of the springtime bloom.

Ryder-Walker offers the journey from Sedona to Moab in a 9day trip. Along the way, we use comfortable accommodations including two charming bed and breakfasts and one luxury hotel. Because all of our hikes loop back to our accommodations, we’ll be able to go light and enjoy the desert scenery without the encumbrance of a heavy backpack. Hiking days are moderately challenging, but the scenery remains breathtaking, and at the end of the day a comfortable bed, hot shower, a good meal, a glass of local wine or beer and the company of other hikers awaits.

The towns along the way range from the eccentric little oasis of Sedona, Arizona, surrounded by wilderness areas and home to eclectic shops, galleries and mystical vortex seekers; to Moab, Utah, an old Uranium mining town now dedicated to almost every imaginable outdoor pursuit. The sleepy, undeveloped and relatively undiscovered outpost of Bluff, Utah, offers an opportunity to explore a region made famous by its enormous concentrations of Anasazi ruins and artifacts.

Despite the popularity of the region, local efforts by the United States Forest Service and concerned citizens in some areas have combined to maintain a pristine world of infinite hiking possibilities. Some of the trails that we’ll follow see relatively little foot traffic while others lead to popular hiking destinations that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. We’ll also spend two afternoons with resident archeologists and paleontologists exploring the myriad fossils, Anasazi ruins and artifacts that accentuate the Desert Southwest. Hiking days are moderately strenuous and follow footpaths that traverse rocky mountain trails, smooth sandstone formations and sandy washes.


Day 1 Arrive in Flagstaff, Arizona. Transfer to Sedona and your well-appointed hotel. Meet at 7:00 pm in the hotel lobby for a brief orientation.

Day 2 Delve into the popular region of Oak Creek Canyon. Soaring monoliths conspire with forests of ponderosa, juniper and pinion to produce a region that earned Sedona the title of “The Most Beautiful Place in America,” according to USA Weekend’s Annual Travel Report. Today’s hike dives into a world where mysterious rock formations seem to glow from within. Return to Sedona.

Day 3 Sedona offers limitless hiking possibilities with unlimited views. We’ll choose between lofty mountain excursions, deep canyon explorations or a mixture of both. Return to Sedona.

Day 4 A memorable plane ride carries us across the mountains of northern Arizona and into Utah to the remote and virtually unknown outpost of Bluff, resting on the banks of the San Juan River. Meet with a local archeologist to uncover the mysteries of local Anasazi cliff dwellings, rock art and artifacts. Overnight in a charming, atmospheric bed and breakfast located in the center of town.

Day 5 Today we’ll hike through the remote and fascinating canyons of Cedar Mesa, a region rich in ruins, rock art and wildlife. (See the ruins photo above). Designated primitive areas within the mesa offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the desert in an undisturbed setting. Return to Bluff.

Day 6 Transfer by van to the bustling desert town of Moab, surrounded by beautiful cliffs and situated along the banks of the Colorado River. Meet with a local paleontologist to explore the many fossils and dinosaur bones that punctuate the area. Overnight in another wonderful bed and breakfast in a quiet section of town.

Day 7 Today we’ll explore a rarely traveled corner of Arches National Park, an area that preserves over two thousand sandstone arches. We’ll explore balanced rocks, fins and pinnacles, highlighted by a striking environment of contrasting colors, landforms and textures. Return to Moab.

Day 8 Our second day in Moab will combine everything wonderful about the desert. We’ll enjoy fantastic wildflower blooms and lost alcoves. The snow capped peaks of the La Sal mountains present a stunning backdrop against endless miles of red sandstone.

Day 9 Depart. Salt Lake City is a convenient departure for this tour, but a same-day, afternoon flight may not be possible.
Difficulty: All hikers should be prepared for distances of 10 miles and ascents up to 2500 feet.

Cost Includes: Guiding; hotel costs; breakfast and dinner daily; luggage transfers for up to two pieces and ground transportation throughout the tour, including air transfer from Sedona, AZ to Bluff, UT. Air to and from the tour is not included.

Equipment: In addition to hiking clothes to suit temperatures from 40°to 80°, equipment for this tour should include a day pack, sturdy hiking boots, rain and sun protection.

Tour Dates: May 3-11, 2008

Tour Cost: $3300 per person in double occupancy.

Contact us to join this trip, and tell Old Man Winter to take a hike!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Grab a room on the Telluride Trek before they're gone.

We only have three doubles left. Sorry no more singles available.

Feeling like a trip to Europe might hurt the checkbook? Looking for an awesome hiking trip in Colorado? Want to experience the Old West before it's gone? Join us, on our nine-day hiking circuit that offers an exciting exploration of Southwestern Colorado's most spectacular trails. From remote valleys filled with golden aspen leaves to high alpine passes replete with endless views, we'll hike beneath the shadows of the resident fourteen thousand foot peaks and thread our way through the most atmospheric villages of the San Juan range.

Our tour begins in the charming mining town of Ouray, home to a variety of world-famous hot spring pools and accentuated by the gorgeous scenery that earned Ouray the title, “The Little Switzerland of America.” We pass through historic Silverton, home of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, and we continue to Rico, a truly unchanged turn-of-the-century mining town boasting one of the finest gourmet kitchens of the region. Guests soak their toughened bodies in the atmospheric hot springs at Dunton, a remote mining camp turned luxury retreat, before returning to their own hand-hewn log cabins. (See the cabin photo above).

We finish the tour in cosmopolitan Telluride, with its eclectic galleries, shops and world-class amenities. Want more? We even timed the hike to coincide with the peak of the autumn foliage. It's a fact that photographers from around the world often descend upon our backyard to capture the spectacular hues of this wonderful season.

Don't wait! Contact us now and reserve your spot. This tour runs September 23-October 1, 2008. Click here to read more about the tour.

Photo descriptions:
1. One of the cozy guest cabins at Dunton.
2. The lobby of one our fantastic digs. (The old West in grand style)
3. Guests hiking in front of Wilson Peak (14,017 ft., 4,272 meters)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wet materials comparison: Is going naked warmer than wearing cotton?

The start of the New Year is a perfect time to start thinking about the various components that can either make or break a good hiking tour. Making sure that you have your passport in hand, choosing the appropriate travel insurance, beginning your athletic training and selecting the right equipment are just a few of the fundamentals. It's no surprise then, that clothing is one of the topics that repeatedly rears it's head during this exciting time of year. "Why can't I wear cotton," is one of the many questions that we field time and time again.

First of all, you CAN wear cotton, but it's important to understand the strengths and limitations of cotton fabric (and other materials), in order to stay comfortable on the trail. (See my entry from May, 2007 titled "Choosing the Right Gear Part Three: Base layers and general hiking attire.") In short, cotton is a comfortable material when it’s dry but it absorbs moisture like a sponge and holds it next to the skin creating significant heat loss. Cotton also takes a long time to dry thereby adding discomfort. Therefore, to avoid taking any chances, we don’t recommend wearing cotton when traveling through alpine environments where staying warm might be an issue.

Recently, a fellow colleague pointed me to the results of an experiment that illustrated the suitability of wool and cotton clothing for outdoor use. A gentleman named Steve Howard from the Los Alamos National Laboratory performed the experiment in order to show how cotton absorbs water and encourages heat loss compared with other materials. Mr. Howard presented his findings at a gathering of Search and Rescue teams in New Mexico.

Here's a summary of his experiment.

Mr. Howard started with four, one-gallon jugs and filled each one of them with hot water at 114.5 degrees F. Then he wrapped one in a wool shirt, one in a similar thickness pile (synthetic fleece) shirt, one in a cotton flannel shirt and one he left "naked". He then showered them with cold water in the shower for 5 minutes to simulate a rain storm and then turned a fan on them. He measured the temperature of each jug every five minutes for one hour.

If you look at the results below then you'll see that after one hour, the gallon jug wrapped in a wet cotton shirt lost the most heat through evaporation-30 degrees in one hour! The jug wrapped in wool retained the most heat and lost just half of what the cotton jug lost. What about the naked jug? The "naked" jug retained more heat than the cotton-wrapped jug but the question still remains, "Is going naked better than wearing cotton?"

Well, for group motivational and entertainment purposes the answer is a resounding YES. However, physiologically the experiment isn't exactly accurate because the "naked" jug can't simulate the normal evaporative process of the skin. Even an inactive person usually sweats a little while sitting still. The pores of our skin constantly open and close to regulate our body temperature. Therefore, I submit that more testing might be in order. In general though, the experiment does put things into perspective and the take home point is this: Wrapping something in wet cotton fabric is a great way to keep it cold. This can be great in the desert but mountain environments are another matter. Imagine getting your shirt nice and wet from perspiration on a long climb and then standing in a chill wind at the top of a mountain pass. Brrrr. Wearing wet cotton clothing is essentially the same as wearing a swamp cooler, great in warm weather, bad in cold conditions.

This experiment also illustrates another key point. While synthetics are typically better than cotton for preventing heat loss, they're still not perfect when they stand alone. The synthetic pile in this experiment lost 20 degrees by evaporation. The advantage of synthetics is that they typically work as a system with the body and wick moisture away from the skin. Cotton doesn't wick. This is why layering with wicking materials is so important because it allows us to move the remaining moisture away from skin to the far outside layers where it can evaporate in peace without making us cold. In it's defense, the pile in this experiment didn't really have the opportunity to show it's true capabilities.

Synthetic wicking layers also allow us to regulate our body temperature by adding and removing layers so that we don't saturate our clothing in the first place. Add good quality rain gear on top of this and the other take home point becomes: Develop an entire clothing system that provides versatility. Don't rely on one piece of clothing or gear to pull you through.

The following charts illustrate the results of Mr. Howard's experiment. Enjoy.

Time Wool Pile Naked Cotton
0 min. 114.5 114.5 114.5 114.5
5 min. 111.8 110.3 108.4 109.2
10 min. 110.2 108.4 106.0 106.2
15 min. 109.1 106.6 104.0 103.5
20 min. 107.8 104.9 101.9 100.3
25 min. 106.7 103.5 99.9 97.4
30 min. 105.7 101.7 97.9 94.9
35 min. 104.6 100.3 96.1 92.7
40 min. 103.5 98.6 94.5 90.5
45 min. 102.4 97.2 93.1 88.9
50 min. 101.3 95.8 91.6 87.2
55 min. 100.3 94.5 90.4 85.6
60 min. 99.4 93.1 89.1 84.4

Results courtesy of the Wilderness Emergency Medical Services Institute.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Alps IMAX Film with John Harlin III opens in Denver, Colorado.

Disclaimer: While we at Ryder-Walker do enjoy the beauty of the Eiger and it's surrounding peaks, we do not climb mountains with our guests. Our hiking tours are just that, hiking excursions that allow us to enjoy the beauty of the Alps without the dangers of mountaineering.
The Alps
, MacGillivray Freeman’s newest giant-screen mountain adventure movie, will open on Friday, January 11, 2008 at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Colorado. This is a chance to see the overwhelming beauty of Ryder-Walker’s stomping grounds on the IMAX big screen. It’s also a chance to meet John Harlin III, the star of the film and author of the book, The Eiger Obsession: Facing The Mountain That Killed My Father.

Background on the film:

The Eiger, a mountain set in the heart of the Jungfrau region of central Switzerland, is one of the world’s most beautiful and celebrated peaks, but its notorious North Face is also considered by many as one of the most treacherous climbs in all of Europe. Its dangerously exposed 6,000-foot vertical wall of jagged limestone is made even more perilous by the constant threat of falling boulders, avalanches and unpredictable weather patterns. In fact, scores of climbers have tempted fate on the Eiger’s craggy slopes, and more than fifty have lost their lives on the mountain.

Forty years ago, John Harlin II, widely considered one of America’s most notable mountaineers, set out to pioneer a bold new route straight up the Eiger’s North face. Approaching the summit at around 4,000 feet, Harlin’s rope broke, and sent him plummeting to a tragic death. His son, John Harlin III, was only nine years old at the time, but the mythic allure and deadly nature of the Eiger haunted him ever since that day.

On September 24, 2005, in an effort to honor the memory of his father, John Harlin III successfully reached the summit of the infamous Eiger North Face, forty years after the same mountain claimed his father’s life. With him were renowned European climbers Robert and Daniela Jasper. The team reached the summit following a climb that lasted three days, with two nights spent bivouacked on narrow ledges high on the sheer face of the mountain. The Alps movie follows Harlin’s climb and beautifully captures one of Europe’s greatest mountain ranges while putting it all on the huge IMAX screen.

If any of you have ever hiked with us below the North Face of the Eiger, then you know that it’s an impressive sight indeed.

The public premiere on January 11th will feature a book sale and signing by John Harlin III. You can read more about the The Alps at Click on “Theatre Listing” for other show times around North America and the world.

For other show times at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science visit Note: Reservations are required for the public premiere on January 11th.

If you’ve never visited the spectacular Jungfrau region highlighted in this film, then let me just say that you’ll walk out of the movie absolutely salivating. Actually, even seasoned veterans will come out drooling.

Here are a few of the hiking tours that explore the magnificent backdrop of this film and pass directly below the North Face of the celebrated Eiger peak.

The Eiger Trail
The Berner Oberland Trek
The Berner Oberland Traverse
The Jungfrau Loop