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Pawnee Pass

During a recent trip to visit family in Colorado we climbed up to Pawnee Pass in the Rockies. Pawnee Pass is part of the Continental Divide. For Bryan, Amy, and Zach this was their first visit to the Continental Divide while my dad and I visited it for the second time. The first was about 20 years ago with my brother. My dad and I were especially happy that this second trip didn't end with an emergency room visit! In the final flat section along Long Lake, I got excited to be done when I was younger and ran ahead, tripped, and fell down. (I got a cut on my forehead, which required a few stitches.)

This time around, we arrived at the trailhead bright and early (8:06 am); however, we missed the opportunity to park at the trailhead parking lot by a mere 15 minutes. Bryan and my dad dropped Amy, Zach, and me off with the packs while they left in search of parking further away.

Pawnee Pass
View from our parking spot

Once the car party returned we stopped for a quick trailhead photo and then got on our way. After passing Long Lake we began the climb to Lake Isabelle. On the way to Lake Isabelle, Amy and Zach had their first summer snow encounter as we passed it on the trail and climbed over it. They posed with their first snowfield; however, the novelty eventually wore off as there were at least five of them on the hike to the pass (about ten snowfield encounters round-trip).

Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass

About 2 miles in we arrived at Lake Isabelle. Shortly after, the trail began the pattern it followed for the rest of the trip: periods of rapid climbing followed by periods of relative flatness.

Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass

After we climbed above the tree line, we decided to stop for a quick snack of mixed nuts and catch our breath. Below the tree line we crossed some streams; however above it we mostly encountered snow.

Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass

Once we entered the large alpine meadow near the top the end was in sight! In the long meadow we met people who had already reached the pass, were taking a break, and eating lunch. At the end of the meadow we began climbing through the rocks and eventually across a long (~200 ft) snowfield.

Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass

After the snowfield and a light scramble we entered another alpine meadow, which made up the pass.

Pawnee Pass

Once we made it to the pass we ate lunch and enjoyed the views. Bryan, who recently caught the peak-bagging bug, decided the nearby Pawnee Peak needed to be climbed and headed off with Zach to do that. Meanwhile the rest of us, Amy, Dad, and I, ate a leisurely lunch and enjoyed the view.

Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass

After Bryan and Zach returned, we left the pass and headed for lower altitudes with less wind! We retraced our steps crossing the long snowfield, the alpine meadows, and more snowfields than we remembered on the trip up. On of the lower ones caught Amy and I by surprise: I fell into a rock, and Amy ended up post-holing in the same spot.

Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass
Pawnee Pass

We saw many varieties of flowers on this hike. We didn't get photos of all of them, but Bryan sure tried to catch the prettiest ones. The flora above tree line was much smaller than those at lower altitudes; however, we did find some varieties at both.

Flora near Pawnee Pass
Alpine Flora
Flora in Indian Peaks Wilderness
Flora Below the Tree Line

Stats:

Distance: 11 mi
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3351 ft
Trailhead Elevation: 10509 ft
Pass Elevation: 12550 ft
Pawnee Peak Elevation: 12947 ft
GPS Elevation Profile

Thoughts:

Long Lake Trailhead is one you want to get to early! We arrived at 8:05 am and were told the last parking spot was taken just 15 minutes earlier. The ranger suggested arriving by 7:30 am for trailhead parking.

The hike isn't the longest we've ever done; however, the last 2 miles of this one just dragged on and on.

Food:

Lunch:
+ Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
+ Grapes
+ Celery

Snacks:
+ Mixed Nuts
+ Peppermint Patties

Grouse Lake

Hope you had a happy Fourth of July weekend! (We sure did!) We decided on a relaxed backpacking trip in one of the few wildernesses in the Northern Sierras we hadn't yet visited, Mokelumne Wilderness. On the first and third day of our backpacking trip we hiked to and from Grouse Lake, and during the second day we climbed the nearby Deadwood Peak and enjoyed the beauty of the lake.

Day 1: Trailhead to Grouse Lake (6 mi)

Upper Blue Lake

After picking up our permit at the Amador Ranger Station, we made our way to the trailhead. Like all good destinations, the road wasn't paved the whole way; however, this road was relatively tame compared to others we've been on. Once we arrived at the trailhead at Upper Blue Lake, we had a leisurely lunch before getting on our way.

Grouse Lake

About a mile in, we reached the edge of the wilderness (no snowmobiles allowed!) and soon after we passed a striking unnamed lake. Two miles in we reached Granite Lake. At Granite Lake we saw people wading in the lake, friendly dogs, and, of course, granite.

Mokelumne Wilderness
The unnamed lake along the way
Granite Lake
View behind Granite Lake
Granite Lake
Enjoying Granite Lake
Grouse Lake

The first part of the trail feels like a typical forest with a soft trail and a shaded path; however, after we passed Granite Lake, our surroundings started to change. The forest gave way to granite boulders and gravel. The granite and gravel eventually mixed with the alpine meadow below Deadwood Peak as we got close to Grouse Lake.

Grouse Lake
Grouse Lake
Grouse Lake
Grouse Lake
Grouse Lake

About five miles in, we finished crossing the alpine meadow and made our way down the valley to Grouse Lake.

Grouse Lake
Grouse Lake
Grouse Lake

Day 2: Grouse Lake to Deadwood Peak (2.9 mi)

Grouse Lake

Since we had planned the middle day of the trip to be a day of leisure by the lake, we slept in and took our time with breakfast. After eating we decided to climb Deadwood Peak. To get to Deadwood Peak from Grouse Lake, we began climbing back up to the alpine meadow we had crossed the day before. Once we arrived at the alpine meadow, we left the trail and began hiking cross-country towards the peak. Once we arrived at the saddle we continued towards the right as the peak on the left is slightly lower and unnamed. (We named it "Fake Deadwood.") Past the saddle there is a false summit and then the final climb up to the peak. There is no survey marker or register to sign; however, there is a nice rock pile you can sit on.

Deadwood Peak
Deadwood Peak
Deadwood Peak
Final push to the summit, view of Round Top and the Twin Sisters
Deadwood Peak
Deadwood Peak

On our way back to camp we stopped by the spring in the alpine meadow closest to Grouse Lake. After filling up on water, we made our way back to the lake chatting with a ranger near the lake.

Deadwood Peak
Grouse Lake
View near our alpine spring

After returning to Grouse Lake we prepared lunch and began to play cards. (We like Rummy 500.) Mid-afternoon we decided it was time to soak in the lake. While climbing the peak I had tossed around the idea of using my inflatable pillow as a kickboard. As Bryan pointed out, it was part of the infamous "pack raft" purchase and was designed for water usage, so I went ahead with the plan. While Bryan relaxed on the edge of the lake, I completed what I dubbed my "Tour de Lac." The water was quite refreshing, and the tour was a rousing success. Grouse Lake is nice for swimming since you can get in and out via rocks and the water is pretty clear. We didn't see many mosquitos in the middle of the day; however, there were many electric blue dragonflies mating.

Swimming in the Lake

After an early dinner, Bryan decided to go explore the nearby creek while I relaxed at camp. After he returned we enjoyed our pudding at the far end of the lake which had a great view of both "Fake Deadwood" and Deadwood Peak.

Grouse Lake
Grouse Lake

Day 3: Grouse Lake to Trailhead (6 mi)

Grouse Lake

We enjoyed our lakeside oatmeal before making an early (7:30 a.m.) start. It was significantly cloudier out and we didn't need sunglasses until we were in the alpine meadow below Deadwood Peak.

Returning from Grouse Lake
Mokelumne Wilderness

In the meadow below Deadwood Peak we found geological interests like the long thin pink line running through the granite, water to filter, and more. Along the way back to Granite Lake we found more that we had forgotten (deliberately or otherwise) including what we think must have been a sign in the past, the seemingly never-ending down on gravel over granite, and a few non-descript meadows close to Granite Lake.

Mokelumne Wilderness
Admiring the view beyond the "Pink Line"
Mokelumne Wilderness
Filtering Spring Water
Returning from Grouse Lake

When we arrived at Granite Lake we saw a large group leaving and stopped for a snack, but the mosquito population forced us to cut it shorter than we'd have liked.

Granite Lake
Granite Lake
Unnamed Lake
Everyone's favorite unnamed lake!

When we returned to Upper Blue Lake we found it to be much less crowded than it was at the beginning of the holiday weekend.

Upper Blue Lake

While enjoying the wilderness we saw many many varieties of flowers. We enjoyed seeing some standards like the paintbrush; however, we saw some flowers we'd never noticed before. Water was plentiful enough for us to spot them both along the trail and in it. The prettiest flora we saw was in the valley near Grouse Lake; however, flowers were everywhere.

Flora in Mokelumne Wilderness
Returning from Grouse Lake

Stats:

Day 1 (& 3):

Distance: 6 mi
Trailhead Elevation: 8182 ft
Elevation Gain: 1764 ft
Elevation Loss: 1370 ft
GPS Elevation Profile

Day 2:

Distance: 2.9 mi
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1487 ft
Starting Elevation: 8182 ft
Peak Elevation: 9857 ft
GPS Elevation Profile

Trip:

Distance: 14.9 mi
Elevation Gain/Loss: 4750 ft
Starting Elevation: 8182 ft
Camping Elevation: 8570 ft
Maximum Elevation: 9857 ft
GPS Elevation Profile

Thoughts:

Grouse Lake was great! It seemed to be a pretty popular destination: on our second night there were at least 10 people camping around the lake. I really enjoyed using my inflatable pillow as a makeshift kickboard but was quite envious of the man we saw swimming laps who brought goggles. The next time we plan to backpack to a lake those will definitely be on the packing list!

On a good day Deadwood Peak has some great views! Compared to other peaks we've done where summiting involves going off-trail, this peak was much less sketchy to climb and descend. There is some scree near the top, but overall it was a great climb. You can also do Deadwood Peak as a long day hike from the Grouse Lake Trailhead. If you do that, there are lots of campgrounds nearby you can camp at.

This is a good destination for drier years like this one. Water is less of a concern as there are three springs in the alpine meadow near Deadwood Peak and the destination is a lake.

Food:

Day 1:
+ Asian Chicken Slaw Wraps
+ Pizza Couscous

Day 2:
+ Oatmeal
+ Southwest Chicken Corn Wraps
+ Cheesy Bacon Pasta with Chai Ginger Pudding

Day 3:
+ Oatmeal
+ Beef Jerky and Cheese

Snacks:
+ Dried Pineapple

Yahtzee! (Adventures in Foam)

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice

As I mentioned in my last post, Chapman, my brother, made a special request of a set of oversized yahtzee dice for a wedding present. He and his friends have been enjoying outdoor lawn games, and he wanted an enormous (12-16" cubes) set of yahtzee dice to play yahtzee in the park. (He also wanted them for use at his rehearsal dinner/crawfish boil.) Since they were a special request for a special day, I had to do what I could to fulfill it.

Flexible pourable urethane foam was not the first idea for making the dice. Some earlier ideas included sewn cubes stuffed with polyfill, sewn cubes with a wire frame insert, and acoustic insulation cubes with painted pips. The first two ideas were finicky: fabric cubes generally don't hold their shape well, so I didn't have confidence in their long-term performance as dice. Before we thought of the pourable foam, the third idea had the most promise. Auralex acoustic foam is only available through distributors, and the price per die would be very steep. If you want to make a large-scale yahtzee set without making a mold and pouring your own dice, you could go that route, and the only remaining step would be painting the pips.

Bryan saw a demonstration of pourable urethane foam which put us on the path of pouring the foam into the shape of dice. Rigid pourable urethane foam is easy to get as it is used by many boaters; however, it can be brittle which isn't a desirable quality in something you want to throw around. Once I found flexible pourable urethane foam I knew we had a winner. I originally wanted to use Smooth-on's flexible foam; however, the shipping was too expensive as it was more than the price of the actual products. (If you've ever wanted to make your own props or unique toys, check them out: they have some cool stuff!) Since ordering directly from Smooth-On was cost-prohibitive, I looked into their local distributors and found Douglas & Sturgess in Richmond. After visiting their store, I left with a box full of chemicals, urethane foam informational sheets, advice on how to complete the project, and a smile on my face. If you're local to the Bay Area, I recommend them for your extreme crafting needs!

The process of making the dice was to (1) make the mold, (2) pour the dice, and (3) paint the pips and seal the surface.

1) Making the mold:

There are a few ways you can make a mold to cast urethane foam. If you want a complex shape, you can use a positive of your desired end result and pourable silicone to make a two part mold around it. As the desired end shape was simple, we simply made a negative of the desired end shape.

Pourable Urethane Foam Die Mold

We used 10 3/4" melamine coated boards (sold for use as shelving) to make a mold where the inside was a 10" cube. After a false start, we ended up with a three part mold that could separate into four to release the die. The first two parts, the top and bottom, were identical except that the top had a 1 1/2" hole through which we could pour the foam. The third part, the side assembly, could separate into two halves during the un-molding of each die. The side assembly was held together by screws and was simply unscrewed during the unmolding process. Mold straps held the top and bottom snugly against the side assembly while the foam cured.

2) Pouring the dice:

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice
Rising foam (Pictures 1 and 9 were taken less than 30 seconds apart)

Pourable urethane foam expands quickly, so you need to have everything in place and work quickly once you begin mixing the parts together. After expanding, the foam needs to cure for an hour or two before you can remove it from the mold.

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice

Before each die was poured, we applied a release agent so that the foam would separate from the mold after it cured. We used sonite wax followed by a layer of baby powder. Before assembling the mold, the wax and baby powder were applied to the interior surfaces of the mold, the top and bottom edges of the sides, the pour hole in the top, and the outside of the top. The baby powder application took a few tries to master, but it was a lot like flouring a very large cake pan.

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice

The pourable foam used was a two part foam. Parts A and B were measured by weight in separate containers before part A was mixed into part B. If you don't add any tint, it comes out somewhere between cream and goldenrod yellow. Chapman wanted grey dice, so we used two pigments, white and black, which were added to part B of the mixture before the two parts were mixed. The dice are a 50% grey; they are equal parts white and black. As suggested by Todd from Douglas & Sturgess, we used a drill paint mixer attachment to quickly and efficiently mix parts A & B.

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice

As soon as it had been mixed (we went for 10 seconds) we quickly poured the foam into the mold. Since the mold was pretty large, we quickly (and carefully!) rotated the mold to coat each surface with the foam while it was still in the cream stage. This awkward step was also recommended by Todd, and it really helped to reduce bubbles on the surface of the dice and help the foam climb up the sides of the mold. To keep the drill attachment from being single-use, we soaked it in acetone to remove the foaming polyurethane.

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice

After the foam had expanded to fill the mold, we let it cure for an hour and a half to two hours before beginning the unmolding process. To unmold the dice we removed the straps, gently pried off the top and bottom pieces, separated the sides into two halves, and removed the die from the mold. After each die was unmolded, we screwed the sides back together.

3) Painting the dice:

Douglas & Sturgess makes a great product that they call Snakeskyn. Snakeskyn is the consistency of a thick simple syrup and dries clear, flexibly conforming to and protecting poured urethane foam. I added a black Mixol tint to the Snakeskyn to paint the pips, and then painted a clear protective coat after they dried. To make the pips of the dice a consistent size and shape, I made a stencil from a piece of plastic. I also made a stencil for the layout of the pips.

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice

Before starting to paint the dice, I washed the dice so that no trace of the release agents (sonite wax and baby powder) remained. This was to allow the Snakeskyn to firmly attach to the surface of the foam instead of the release agent. After washing the dice, I used a permanent marker to mark the center of the pips on each die. The center guides and the stencil made it simple to paint uniform pips. I found that it took a couple coats of the tinted Snakeskyn to get the pips dark enough. Once the pips were dry, I applied two coats of clear Snakeskyn to the surface of the dice using a mini-roller.

Final Thoughts:

If you know in advance you're going to make either a bunch of dice or something else that requires multiple pours per item, I would suggest mixing the tint into all of your part B in advance for a uniform color between all items/pours. We counted the drops and did the same ratio each time; however, there is still a slight difference in color between the dice. We found that the color of part B once the tint was mixed in was pretty close to the finished color of the dice.

We needed about 30% more of the foam than would be expected to fill the volume. We poured the first die using the amount calculated using the foam density and mold volume and ended up with something that resembled a loaf of bread from a bread machine, not a cube. After the 30% increase, we found that if we added more foam, it left the mold as flashing and run-off.

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice

Despite our best efforts, we did end up with some voids which Mary & I were able to fill in with an small batch of foam. Keeping the die in the mold was crucial to our success in the foam repair. The foam has a different final texture if it forms in a mold vs. if it is free-formed.

Temperature is important to the process. The foam rises slower and is easier to work with at lower temperatures, resulting in more even sides to the dice. We also found that some of the dice collapsed in on themselves an hour or two after the unmolding. The first one to do this bounced back within a day or two, while the other two dice took longer to return to normal.

Flexible Foam Yahtzee Dice

This was a fun project! This was not a cheap adventure; however, the end result was well worth it! They have a satisfying heft and feel substantial and well made. They look much better than the expected result of the first two options considered, and most of the people who played with them at the crawfish boil were unaware they were handmade until my brother told them. (He got a few inquires as to where he purchased them.)

The dice are really fun to use. There were a few main methods people employed to roll their initial die roll: some did their best to pick them up and throw them in one group while others stacked them and then attempted to knock the group over. Once you get to secondary rolls, it's much simpler to pick up a single die and roll it.

A special thanks to Mary & Steve who helped Bryan and I pour all the dice!

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