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Day 32: Stuart- Glacier National Park, MT (9/4-9/5)

Written from Nathan’s Perspective

As we posted earlier, we spent 3 nights and 2 days in Glacier National Park. Our trip report ended with the perfect day, but we left out what happened on the last night.  This is a story that we will always remember and will always bring a smile to our faces and a shiver to our shoulders.

10:20 PM The milky-way is spectacular spanning the night sky from one mountain range to another.  We arrive at our tent and I quickly start to unload my camera gear, backpack and tripod.  I set up my camera in the meadow nearby, pointing up at the stars for a time lapse photography session.

10:30 PM I return to the car and sit in the driver seat sorting through our memory cards.  Suddenly there is a scurrying sound.  It was odd how close it sounded, I wondered if there could be something under the car? I look under the car but there was nothing so I return to the driver seat.  Soon enough I hear the scurrying again, so I look behind my seat and see my camera backpack. Oh no, I thought, maybe a mouse jumped in my backpack while I was setting up my camera.  I quickly grab my backpack and lay it on the picnic table.  I stand there staring at it with my headlamp waiting for the scurrying sound to return.  Katharine returns from the bathroom and I explain what I thought was going on. I gingerly open my pack, stepping back and waiting for a mouse to climb out.  After staring at my backpack without any movement I thought I must be crazy and ask Katharine to sit in the car and listen for odd noises.

10:35PM She walks to the car and opens the passenger door. AHHHH!! She let out the loudest scream I’ve ever heard her make.  I turn and see a small field mouse on our passenger seat.  I looked at Katharine with her hands over her mouth and then around the pitch black and silent campground.  Not one flashlight, tent zipper, or voice, no one was concerned.  Amazing how a blood curdling scream from a woman in the middle of the night in grizzly bear country didn’t get one bit of interest or concern from the fellow campers. Katharine was actually glad though, she was pretty embarrassed to have screamed so loudly over a little mouse.

10:40 PM We stand in shock as we watch the mouse explore our car.  We were helpless watching him effortlessly scurry from driver seat over backpacks, gear, and clothes to the back windshield.  Our evening just got complicated.  Tomorrow we have a 10 hour drive to Grand Teton.  We can’t do that safely with a mouse in the car, so we have to get rid of it… but how?

10:35 PM We decide he might just be looking for a way out, so we open the back hatch.  The mouse ran to the edge of the car, but retreated after seconds of looking outside.  Of course that would have been too easy; we needed another idea.  We peered through the windows with our headlamps watching him stuff his cheeks with dropped nuts and Clif bar crumbs under the seat.

10:50 PM We decide we needed to remove his food supply. We agree that we needed visual confirmation that the critter had left the car so Katharine watches the open door for any escaping rodents while I nervously unload the gear behind our seats and begin removing wrappers.  I cautiously reach for wrappers half under the seats in fear of a mouse biting my fingers.  After all the food and crumbs were removed we stand back again waiting for a disappointed hungry mouse to jump out of our car.  Instead the chubby cheeked mouse continued to run around the car without attempting to escape.

11:15 PM We name the mouse Stuart, after Stuart Little.

11:30 PM We need a more aggressive plan so we decide to reduce his hiding spots by emptying the car.  Again I nervously removed our bags, bins and clothing hoping a mouse wouldn’t crawl up my arm.  Soon the car was barren, and cleaner than before the trip.  We stood watching the open hatch and waiting for him to voluntarily leave.  Again he ran to the back bumper, but wouldn’t jump.  A neighboring camper walked by looking puzzled as we stood in the dark amongst our stuff staring at an empty car.  “There’s a mouse in our car”, we told him.  He replied, “yeah I had one in my sleeping bag last night.” We can’t decide which would be worse.  He then headed back to his tent.

11:55 PM We are two engineers staring at an empty car held hostage by a simple field mouse.  We are tired, frustrated, but not defeated.  Maybe he’s afraid to jump we thought, let’s build a ramp.  We lean a duffle bag from the ground to the back bumper and waited again.  The mouse ran to the edge, but wouldn’t take the easy exit.  Instead a second mouse raced from the darkness to the foot of the bag.  No! We lunge forward, scaring the second mouse back into the darkness.  We quickly remove the bag.

12:05 AM We notice Stuart would spend a few seconds at the edge of the bumper, so what if we gave him a little nudge?  I stood near the brake light holding an extended trekking pole.  He ran to the edge and I slowly lowered the pole behind him and in one swift move my nudge turned into a bat swinging for the fences. I miscalculated that the ski-pole-like disk would raise the pole a half an inch from the floor allowing the mouse to play limbo under my swiping trekking pole.  He made a quick second loop toward the bumper and in frustration I turned the pole into a skewer, jabbing the pointed end towards the pest but obviously missing him.

12:30 AM It’s been two hours and we are depressed, how could this be happening to us?  Fatigue is setting in and we can’t think straight.  I chase him around the car trying to scare him toward an open door, but there were too many hiding spots for a mouse.

12:40 AM We change tactics in desperation – no more Mr. Nice Guy, it’s on! I pull out a canister of Cutter’s bug spray.  Katharine watches the back hatch as I spray the noxious gas under the seats.  The fumes make me cough and back away from the car.  There is no way he can survive in the DEET fog, he has to leave now.  We wait, but there is no more scurrying, no more mocking appearances, maybe he’s gone, maybe he’s dead…

1:00 AM We’re about to give up the fight for the night when suddenly a mouse appears on the roof of our car under our roof box.  “You have to be kidding me!” I exclaim.  I immediately maced the little pest with the bug spray.  He ran down our windshield and disappeared between the windshield wipers and the hood of our car.  I pop the hood and look around the engine and realize the search is impossible.

1:05 AM We give up. There isn’t any sign of the mouse, but we realize he can probably come and go as he pleases through the engine and dashboard.  Who knows, maybe there is more than one.  This is a losing battle and we are defeated.  We load our gear back into the car verifying everything is sealed and zipped.  We turn off the time lapse photography of stars that had been running the whole time and put the camera away. Our final move is placing a small cashew crumb in the center of the diver seat floor mat.  If the nut is gone in the morning, we’ll know he’s still here.

7:00 AM I wake up eager to check for the nut on the floor mat.  It’s gone! So, the war isn’t over.  We empty the car again preparing for another assault.  With the light of day and a fresh mind I decided to make some new weapons from aspen branches.  I used my knife to whittle a thin flexible rod that can reach the small hiding spots under the seats.  I also cut a branch that resembles a broom hopefully more effective than the trekking pole at sweeping Stuart out of the car.

7:15 AM I crouch down resting my head on the floor mat looking under the seats.  My anger and frustration overpowers any fear of the mouse darting out and attacking my face.  I use the aspen branch to systematically clear every nook and cranny.  I listen for the scurrying, but there is just silence.  We stare at the empty car and our gear.  Then it dawns on me if he won’t leave maybe we could trap him.  We whittle a small branch and prop up a bucket upside down.  We then removed my shoe laces and created a rope and tied it to the branch.  With a quick jerk the bucket falls a couple inches.  This totally would have worked last night when he was active, but now he’s gone silent.  Maybe he’s gone, or maybe he’s asleep in the dashboard.

7:30 AM We have a long drive ahead of us and couldn’t waste anymore time battling the mouse.  We had to do the unthinkable; drive 10 hours with the potential of a mouse surprising us on the road by running up our legs or appearing on our shoulder.

8:00 AM The car was loaded and we were ready to hit the road.  Of course we had 5 miles of bumpy gravel roads to start the nightmare drive.  Maybe the jarring will wake him up causing him to make an appearance, which might be better now than on the interstate.  We make it to the pavement with no mouse.

12:00 PM We stop at a Wal-Mart and buy 8 mouse traps.  We bait and arm 4 wooden death traps and take a break for lunch.  Later we returned to the car.  Nothing, the peanut butter is untouched, no Stuart.  Maybe he’s still asleep.  We still had hours ahead of us so we bravely headed south.

7:00 PM It started getting dark and we had another hour left of driving.  Would Stuart wake up and be active in the dark?  Every once in a while we felt a phantom tail or tickle on our legs.  It was the most suspenseful 10 hour drive we had ever made.  We arrived in Jackson Hole, WY and reset the traps throughout the car and collapsed in our motel room.

5:00 AM We have an early flight to Chicago.  I check the traps again, nothing.  My confidence that Stuart was gone grew and I knew he wouldn’t be able to ignore the peanut butter if he was still in the car.  We left the traps armed in the car over the weekend just in case, but after several days they remained untouched.

The Stuart chapter was over.  Finally we could get into our current home, our car, without hesitation.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 39
  • Mice in the car: 1 (that we know of)

Day 10: Drive from Lassen NP to Mt. Shasta area (8/13)

After camping for 9 nights straight, we were ready for a hotel and a real bed, so we were excited for two nights at the Comfort Inn in Weed, CA under the shadow of Mt. Shasta.

We only had ~120 miles to drive, so we made a couple stops along the way.

The first was Subway Cave, a huge lava tube in Lassen National Forest. We had seen a picture of it in the Lassen NP museum / visitor center, but figured it was in some remote part of the park so we didn’t bother asking about it. But on our drive shortly after leaving the park, Katharine noticed a sign for it, so we pulled over and it was just a quick walk from the parking area.

The lava tube is very impressive… it is massive in diameter, but also so long and has several bends that it is pitch black through most of it. We took almost an hour to explore the whole thing and take photos. It was definitely a worthwhile stop and highly recommended if you are in the area!



After the Subway cave, we headed to McArthur Burney Falls, a ridiculously beautiful waterfall.


We were surprised and happy to see it flowing at what seemed to be normal levels (at least in comparison to the example photos) given the really dry winter and summer this year.

After taking sufficient photos and video, we made the final leg of the drive to Weed, CA. We took advantage of the hotel’s pool and spa, then enjoyed nice clean and warm showers before treating ourselves to dinner at a restaurant. We definitely appreciated the real bed that night as well as the chance to do some laundry!


Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 10
  • Nights in a tent: 8
  • Miles driven: 1253
  • Miles hiked: 47
  • Caves explored: 2

By Katharine

In early July, I was lucky enough to get to go to Australia for a business trip. Even better, I got to spend several extra days exploring Melbourne, Sydney, and the surrounding countryside with my coworker. We had an amazing time touring Melbourne, seeing the Sydney Opera House, feeding kangaroos, seeing wild koalas and wallabies, watching the Little Penguins of Phillip Island, and doing a tour along the magnificent Great Ocean Road. Check out the photos below for a quick look at it all we did. Click an individual photo for full screen/slide show mode and the captions/descriptions will show up. (Don’t click ‘show as slideshow’.)


So as many of you may have heard, we are moving to Pennsylvania! We are finishing up our jobs this week and will be spending next week packing and tying up loose ends.

Of course we couldn’t just make the move and rush through a cross-country drive in a few days, only seeing the rest stops. Instead we decided to take this move as an opportunity to take a couple months off work and explore the parts and parks of the western US that we haven’t had a chance to yet. So we created our own ‘epic’ ~75 day, 10,000+ mile road trip through 18 states and 20 national parks!!!  We hit the road on August 4th from San Diego and start heading up the west coast.


View NateKat Epic Trip Overview in a larger map
We invite all of you to follow us on our trip as we will be updating our website with photos, trip reports, and our progress when internet is available.  We plan to camp about 40 of the 75 days which also includes about 10 nights backpacking where we will be completely off the grid. If all goes according to plan, we will summit Half Dome in Yosemite, traverse the Teton Crest Trail, and cross the Grand Canyon from rim to rim.

Here’s a quick look at the National Parks we will be visiting, in order of the trip:

  • Pinnacles, CA
  • Yosemite, CA
  • Lassen Volcanic, CA
  • Redwood, CA
  • Crater Lake, OR
  • Mt. Rainier, WA
  • Olympic, WA
  • North Cascades, WA
  • Glacier, MT
  • Grand Tetons, WY
  • Yellowstone, WY
  • Great Basin, NV
  • Zion, UT
  • Grand Canyon, AZ
  • Saguaro, AZ
  • Carlsbad Caverns, NM
  • Big Bend, TX (if time allows)
  • Guadalupe Mountains, TX
  • Hot Springs, AR
  • Mammoth Cave, KY

We’ve only been to 5 of the 20 parks before, so this trip will definitely add to our life list, and we’ll get to see an amazing array of scenery and wildlife.

We can’t wait to get started and hope you enjoy following along with us!


By Nathan

We took a couple days off in early October and headed up to Lake Tahoe for a photography focused vacation.  The goal for the trip was to photograph black bears, aspens, and a couple unusual rock formations.  Unfortunately we never did see any bears, which was definitely disappointing, but we saw a lot of other cool sites and enjoyed a long weekend in Tahoe.

The 10 hour drive to Tahoe was broken up with a stop at Mono Lake to check out the unusual rock salt columns protruding out of the water.  These columns (tufas) are formed by the high salinity lake’s level receding.  The lake has a salinity of 78 g/L compared to ocean saltwater at 31 g/L.


Of course with Katharine’s planning we hit the lake right at sunset and were quickly swamped by a photography class.  You know you’re in the right place when you move your tripod and it’s quickly replaced with another.

Just down the road we enjoyed an unusual gourmet meal at a gas station, the Tioga Gas Mart and Whoa Nellie Deli.  It is a little pricey, but so much better than typical gas station food/regret.  We recommend it to anyone who’s driving along the Highway 395 south of  Tahoe, north of Mammoth or east of Yosemite.

One of the main reasons we went to the Lake Tahoe area in October was to time our visit with the Taylor Creek salmon run. Taylor Creek is unique in the fact there is a land locked salmon run where the salmon come out of Lake Tahoe and spawn upstream in Taylor Creek.  This mass exodus of salmon usually attracts the attention of many black bears in the area.

I spent a few hours every morning hiking up and down Taylor Creek looking for black bears, but as I mentioned before we didn’t see or hear about any bears that weekend.  One rainy morning I was crouched in some bushes completely hidden when 4 hikers checking out the salmon got within 20 feet of me before I waved at one of them and got a pleasing startled response.

You can see hundreds of salmon waiting their turn to jump up stream.

Click to enlarge the photo and see all the salmon


The Taylor Creek Visitor Center also has a nice exhibit, which is a tunnel with large aquarium connected to the stream holding salmon, trout and other native species.


The scenery around Lake Tahoe is pretty nice and is worth the trip alone.


We also enjoyed a couple hikes in the mountains on the south side of the Lake.

Granite Lake Hike (2.5 miles, 1,000 feet of gain), overlooking Emerald Bay

Round Lake Hike (6 miles, 1,000 feet of gain)

Every sunset we tried to position ourselves along the lake shore to get the best shot.  The first evening we started at Emerald Bay, but the mountains along that shoreline are too high leaving the bay in the shade.
Emerald Bay
The second evening we headed across the lake to Sand Harbor, which has unique rocks in the foreground, but the water was choppy from the wind and there weren’t any clouds to make the sky more interesting.  Although we did try some shots with a slow shutter speed, which gave kind of a mystical look to the photos.
The last evening we went a little south of Sand Harbor and the wind cooperated, giving us the best sunset of the trip.
We also managed to time our trip with the Aspens turning yellow. On our last day in Tahoe the mountains got a dusting of snow which made a picture perfect landscape with the aspens in the valley on the drive home.
Despite not seeing any bears, Lake Tahoe was beautiful and we had a lot of fun getting a taste of West Coast fall. We’d love to return for summer and winter too!


by Katharine

While Nathan headed to San Diego for a fishing trip in October, I traveled to Portland, ME to visit my friend Kate. It was great to spend a long weekend with her and get to experience the beginning of Fall on the East Coast.

On Saturday we went to an excellent fall fair to see the livestock (pigs and alpaca were my favorites), handmade crafts, and eat traditional fair food (fried dough!).

Sunday we went apple picking and got fresh apple cider doughnuts, something I definitely miss in CA that was a tradition for my family growing up.


Then we went to Wolf’s Neck State Park for some sea-side hiking. The trees were just starting to turn and the woods smelled amazing. I loved the mushrooms! Afterwards we even got to stop at the L.L. Bean store which is always fun even if you don’t buy anything.


On my last day we visited a bunch of lighthouses and stopped for classic crab sandwiches which were of course delicious.


Speaking of food, I have to say that Kate treated me to some amazing home-cooked meals and I got to try some new vegetables that I haven’t been adventurous for enough in the past. Beets are really good – and now I know how to cook them 🙂

It was a great vacation, mostly getting to see Kate, but the beautiful Fall in Maine didn’t hurt!

Big Sur

We celebrated our one year anniversary (and Labor Day) by driving up Highway 1 and visiting the most stunning coastline in California.


We stayed at Glen Oaks Big Sur,  which was really just a small cabin amongst the redwoods just off the highway.


As usual Katharine, being the great planner that she is, not only picked a place with great amenities but one that was centrally located to minimize the time spent in the car.  The small cabin had a microwave, small refrigerator  and best of all heated bathroom floors!  That way when you step out of the shower or are brushing your teeth, the floor is just slightly warmer than your feet, which is a surprisingly amazing feeling.  It also didn’t have a TV which may turn some people away, but right now we will choose a fire pit over a TV almost any day.

Redwoods in the Camp Fire Light

The first morning we went to Point Lobos State Reserve and it was clear, but the clouds were moving in fast.


The increased coastal moisture makes for some interesting fungus on the trees.


Once the clouds socked in the coast we hiked a couple short trails with trees covered in moss (Lace Lichen Trail).  We had a little fun with moss, I’m sure other people walking by thought we were weird.


The clouds lifted a little, but just in select areas.  We drove up and down the coast looking for a clearing, but got mixed results as you can see.





Midway through the day we gave up on the coast and headed inland to do some hiking in the redwoods.  The redwood groves weren’t nearly as big as other further up the coast in Redwoods National Park, but it was nice to get some excercise after sitting in the car for the last couple of days.


Then we headed to Pfeiffer Beach for sunset. Pfeiffer Beach is a relatively unknown spot in Big Sur since there isn’t much signage on Rt. 1, it has pretty rough road to access it, and there is only extremely limited parking. So it’s much less crowded than it would otherwise be given that it’s a beautiful beach with amazing rock formations and purple sand. Even on Labor Day weekend just before sunset we were able to get a parking spot after just a ~20 minute wait.



Certain areas of the beach had very purple sand, especially near the bluffs due to the manganese garnet in the hills. But as the light faded it became harder to see the color and the temperatures started to  drop causing us to head back to the car.  Although we were able to stay much longer than others since we brought our down jackets and gloves 🙂

We had dinner at Ventana Inn, which was pretty fancy compared to our Mountain House freeze dried foods we had the weekend before when we were hiking Whitney.  This was definitely a different style of vacation for us, but the more relaxed setting was much appreciated.

The next morning the clouds were stil hugging the coast and preventing us from taking more photos.  We checked out McWay Falls, one of the few waterfalls that actually empties out into the ocean, but the fog made it a little less dramatic than we were hoping.


Since the coast was so foggy we decided to head back a little early to get a head start on the long drive. On the way back we stopped to check out the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas again, which were small in numbers compared to what we saw during the breeding season, so we spent some time watching the parasurfers instead.


All in all the trip was relaxing and different from our many summit hikes we had been doing all year.  We wish the clouds would have cleared more for some coastal photos, but that just gives us a reason to visit again!

By Katharine

At the beginning of the year I started researching different trips we could do, and especially tried to find some interesting opportunities for wildlife photography. I expected to mainly find information on bird migrations or the like, but instead discovered that there is an elephant seal rookery in the Pismo Beach area. Although you can see seals there at any time of year, Jan-Feb is best because the females give birth while the males fight to gain and protect their harem. I decided to design it to be a full photography trip, adding a stop at a grove with thousands of wintering monarchs and some exploration of the beautiful coastline. We invited Nathan’s parents since they are always up for new experiences, so they met us in LA and we made the 4 hour drive up the coast on a Friday night.

If you’ve never seen a picture of a male elephant seal, there’s not much to prepare you. They are huge, weighing up to 6000 pounds, and their noses are just ridiculous.


The females and babies have the more traditional cute seal face though.


The rookery at Piedras Blancas has a boardwalk overlooking the beach, allowing us to get a great view of the action. These seals were definitely the most active and interesting animals that we’ve seen. The males were constantly moving around protecting their harem of females, threatening other males and chasing them off. We saw a couple fights where they attack each other with their teeth until one retreats into the ocean. And their chests were covered in rough scar tissue, proof of previous battles.


The females meanwhile were mostly trying to avoid advances from the males, constantly barking and fighting among themselves.


They also flip sand on themselves, probably for sun protection. Many were nursing their pups although they only do that for about a month before leaving the beach and their pup behind to fend for itself. Generally once they’ve given birth, they breed again and head back into the ocean for another 9 months.


The pictures give you an idea of these incredible animals (more at the end of the post), but you really should check out the video… watching these huge animals move across the beach is quite a sight. Also, nothing can prepare you for all the crazy sounds they make, nothing can describe it.


So, if you ever have the chance to visit in the winter, it’s definitely worth the stop. We are already planning to go back again next year, maybe a little earlier when there are more births and the males are fighting more to decide which females they can claim for their harem.



By Katharine

In January, I had to go San Francisco for a weekend conference, so Nathan came along too. Nathan had visited the city before, but it was a first time for me and I figured Nathan would enjoy the chance to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge and other sights.


I made a list of the top things I wanted to see, but it was tough to fit them all in around the conference. Still, we were lucky to have a rain-free afternoon/evening so we walked through Chinatown, climbed the steps to the top of Telegraph Hill (Coit Tower), had seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf, and rode one of the world famous trolley cars. The steps up to Telegraph hill were a nice work out and the houses and gardens were beautiful, plus the view from the top was great, but my favorite by far was the trolley car ride, something about it was just exhilarating that night!


Coit Tower 1933, which was funded by Lillie Coit who is the matron saint of the San Francisco Fire Dept.  The fire engine just happened to pull up when we were leaving. (photo by Katharine)


Nathan used the time I was attending the conference to get some closer shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, but unfortunately it was pouring rain and pretty foggy.


Check out the rest of the photos from our trip – San Francisco is definitely a beautiful city!

After planning months in advance we went to Mammoth with some co-workers for a long weekend.  Sadly the weekend we went there was no snow!  Last year around the same time they had over 15 feet of snow, but this year there was barely enough snow to cover the rocks.


During lunch we watched a snowboarding competition where they made it look so easy.


The biggest surprise of the weekend was how fast Mercedes skied even though it was her first time. She is fearless!


At the end of the day we rode the gondola up to the top of the mountain.


The view was amazing, but it was unusual to see all the mountain tops without any snow in late January.


We spent the rest of the weekend watching the NFL playoff games and playing Uno. We also made a stop at the Mammoth Brewing company tasting room for a sampling of their local beer. And we were very well fed… Claudia and Felipe cooked for us throughout the weekend, which of course was amazing.


All in all we were pretty bummed about the snow, but it was fun to get away.



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