Backpacking on the Moon

Amazing, amazing trip this weekend.  Since we first visited back in 2005 M and I have wanted to return and explore Craters of the Moon National Monument in greater depth.  To say that its vast lava flows and extinct cinder craters are a unique landscape to travel in is quite the understatement.  The obvious obstacles are twofold: the terrain is rough and travel is slow so you’ll need to spend the night, and there are few or no reliable water sources where you want them to be.  The obvious solution is to go in the spring, when snow lingers and provides a vast in situ reservoir.

We were obliged to make our trip a bit earlier than would have been optimal (as can be seen by the snowshoes we had to bring along).  Spring weekends are starting to fill up.  In my mind it was absolutely worth it, though the nasty sage fields, isothermal snowfields, and cumulative slog factor had us pushing hard on Saturday, at 12 hours camp to car.

In general, words fail.  I thought we’d be able to get a good cross section of the monuments zeitgeist in a strong weekend; instead we’re planning what to do when we go back next.

If you do go, and you really ought to, try for mid-late spring so you won’t need poles or snowshoes.  Bring a wind stable shelter, but no stakes, as they don’t hold in the cinder-dirt at all, and perversely most of the volcanic rocks are super light for their size (we tied guy lines to the center of poles and snowshoes and piled on lots of rocks).  Plenty of fuel for snow melting, but as light as load as you can manage to make the going as easy as possible.  Light shoes with tacky rubber and strong legs are most vital of all.  Second most vital is some sort of wind layer.   Third most important, if you plan to seek out some of the various caves and bridges marked on the topo, is a GPS.  We’ve uncovered various accounts of magnetic rocks messing with compasses out there, and while I can’t confirm that happened to us, we did spend a lot of time futzing with bearings off buttes which never seemd to quite work out properly.  If you’re just out to walk and see that piece of the world, the various cones and buttes provide dead-easy landmarks, unless you get fogged in.  I went for a very cool day hike in dense and icy November fog back six years ago, and having that roll in when you were far out on the lava with a wonky compass bearing is alarming.

In any case, a legendary weekend, in the making.

2 responses to “Backpacking on the Moon”

  1. You missed a great ride in Hailey on Sunday… but looks like a great day at Craters… you should pop over the next time you are in South Central Idaho!

  2. Awesome!! I rode through there a few years back on a bike tour with my brother and always wondered what it looked like with snow on the landscape. Crazy area for sure!

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