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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

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Little Colorado River Gorge: Cameron(almost) to the Confluence

Derek Bartz

It is 57 miles down the Little Colorado from Cameron to the Confluence with the Colorado River.  57 miles of relatively unknown territory to most with the exception of those hardy few who see the unimaginable gash in the Earth's crust while driving Hwy 64 during their approach to the Grand Canyon and ask themselves, "why aren't we going down there?"  Little reliable beta about the route exists, a few trips reports are found online(most of them very outdated); but a good description of the route is written in the phenomenal guidebook Grand Canyoneering by Todd Martin.  He describes the canyon as "a remote backpacking/wilderness trip" and gives it four stars.  No real technical aspects besides the logistics; all dealing with

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Canyon Country Part 2

Derek Bartz

The canyons continued, and oh there are so many canyons!  We were excited to move onto other portions of the plateau and slowly made our way north/east, even stopping along a couple of our favorite places to get a little backpacking in.  The Canyons of the Escalante, North Wash, Robbers Roost; places one could easily bypass in favor of the surrounding "Mighty 5" when in reality ALL of Southern Utah is a national park.  I had little experience with most of these areas.  As always it was great connecting the dots, slowly filling in the blank spaces on the map only to realize that the list of places to explore just gets bigger and bigger every time.

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Canyon Country Part 1

Derek Bartz

You think you know a place, specifically the Colorado Plateau.  After spending the month of October in Southern Utah/North Arizona I can attest that I surely do not.  Upon ending my season at Olympic National Park, I said my goodbyes to the clouds and waves and booked it down to the desert for some sunshine and sandstone.  Our focus would be technical canyons.  I had high expectations for the trip, but could not have imagined just how many secrets this special place on the planet could hold.   

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Bailey Range Traverse

Derek Bartz

Look on a map of Olympic National Park and you will notice a tract of trail-less terrain running a semi-circle around the Olympus massif.  The Bailey Range is one of the few strings of peaks on the Olympic Peninsula that can be traversed at or above treeline without having to drop significantly in elevation; no deep river valleys cut through the range.  The traverse is a classic Olympic "high route" running through the heart of the national park and the trip I had been anticipating the most since arriving on the peninsula back in May.  My days off and the weather finally aligned. 

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Cascade Volcanoes

Derek Bartz

When I first learned I would be living in the PNW for the summer I knew I needed to find a way to climb a couple of the massive, majestic volcanoes that dot the landscape.  These peaks can be far more serious mountaineering objectives than the scrambling I am used to coming from the Rockies; the standard routes often involving heavily glaciated terrain .  Most of these routes are climbed with a roped team to mitigate the risks associated with traveling over broken up, cravassed glaciers and dealing with the intermittent weather so common here in the Cascades.  Not knowing anyone with these skills, I had my sights set on some of the easier climbs such as Mt Adams, St Helens, or Mt Hood.  Luckily for me though, I was also able to get up Mt. Baker after meeting some new friends.

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Olympic

Derek Bartz

A month gone by on the Olympic Peninsula already and it feels as though I am just getting settled in.  First impressions?  This place is rad.  The first few weeks saw my time being split between Port Angeles and Quinault which gave me the opportunity to explore both sides of the park a bit.  Port Angeles is a great little port town with a mountain scene backdrop and views over the Strait of Juan de Fuca out to Mt Baker, the North Cascades, and Vancouver Island.  Hurricane Ridge road leaves right from the south side of town giving easy access to the alpine; one of the few roads in the park to do so.  When in PA (as the locals say) I take full advantage.  Afternoon runs up Mt. Angeles and out to Obstruction Pt have been my favorite times in the park thus far, even though they are front country trails.  The hip community of PA

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Columbia River Gorge Canyoneering

Derek Bartz

Cayoneering...in the rainforest.  I should have known.  The Columbia River Gorge boasts the most waterfalls of any area in the contiguous US.  Canyons + Waterfalls = Canyoneering.  

After bailing on Utah to in fear of continuing to be skunked by the weather, Joe and I had practically ditched the idea of hitting up a few canyons in preparation for our upcoming trip down The Grand this Fall.  As we made our way North the coast began to grey and we were regretting not waiting out the weather in the desert.   After a bit of research though, we realized there were a plethora of canyons to choose from in the Columbia River Gorge area, and the weather there was looking perfect so we 

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Death Valley & Sinkyone

Derek Bartz

Another week on the road with Joe C prior to heading to up to the Olympic Peninsula.  Our initial goal was to head back to the desert for some canyons in Zion/Escalante; but cold, wet weather crossing the Colorado Plateau wasn't what we had in mind.  Instead we made a quick stop at Death Valley before cruising back out to the California coast.  Even Death Valley was grey by the time we pulled into the Furnace Creek visitor center, still 90 degrees though.   We left the pavement at Stovepipe Wells to spend the night up Marble Canyon.  A nice set of short, narrows was up canyon a ways, but the long dirt road (Death Valley National Park has nearly

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La Ventana

Derek Bartz

A month ago Michele and I made our way west from Colorado where I was dropping here off in SoCal to get on the PCT before heading north to WA for the summer.  Although the weather didn't cooperate most of the trip, we were able to squeeze in some time in the La Ventana Wilderness before heading down the coast. 

It is a miracle that this place exists.  The close proximity to the Bay Area has one wondering how this slice of coast was saved from further development.  Hike up into the Santa Lucia Mountains and it becomes more apparent why; this place is steep and rugged.  I had been through Big Sur before, but had yet to really leave the pavement.  After pouring over Leor

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A Kitchen in a Van

Derek Bartz

A kitchen in a van.  I like to cook, and I was determined to have a full kitchen in the van.  Everything revolved around it really; the kitchen was first and everything else was an after thought.  Having a functioning kitchen will keep us from eating out so much while allowing us to be more flexible with our diet.  I want the ability to make fresh coffee in the morning and bake a batch of enchiladas for dinner.  To do so I needed the following:

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Flooring/Ceiling

Derek Bartz

What materials to use for the floor?  I explored all of my options, debating between using laminate, engineered wood flooring, and sheet vinyl.  They each had their benefits.  Laminate and sheet vinyl were the cheapest and lightest options; but flexible so the sub-floor would have to be dead level or it could feel squishy in places or bubble up.  Engineered wood flooring is expensive and heavy but provides a solid foundation for the rest of the van.

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The PNW

Derek Bartz

I am currently writing from the van in the dense, damp temperate rainforest looking back at how the last couple months unfolded to find myself here, at Olympic National Park, beginning my time as a seasonal Wilderness Information Assistant for the summer.  It is surreal.  My desire to work for the NPS began some time ago, before I even left the Midwest for Colorado in fact.  At the time, I knew I wanted a change and prior to joining AmeriCorps and heading to Boulder (what a place to stumble upon by the way) I had applied to numerous positions in National Parks all over the country.  Nothing came of it that first year, and I tried again every hiring season (Jan-Mar) on and off for the next five years.  Then, February this year I finally received a couple referrals, meaning my resume was strong enough to get me past the first

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Paneling

Derek Bartz

Most van builds you see use plywood sheets to cover the walls, but I chose to use paneling once again for the Promaster.  I re-purposed some old barn wood I picked up for free on my last van build, but this time around I was going for a more polished look.  I shopped around a bit for some paneling at Home Depot and online, but everything either looked really cheap or was WAY too expensive.  Luckily I had access to an industrial wood shop and had some options to create my own paneling from scratch.  I love this stuff; it turned out really great.  

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Insulation

Derek Bartz

Controlling the environment in the van is a difficult thing.   Insulation will help though.  There are quite a few good resources about this online so I won't go into too much detail here, but basically most people use either some sort of combination between foamboardwool/denimreflectix, or spray foam insulation.  My last van had a combination of reflectix, denim, and a vapor barrier as insulation.  This method worked very well, but was a bit tedious and bulky. When choosing which insulation to go with this time around I was most concerned with the following:

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Auxillary Batteries

Derek Bartz

What Batteries to Buy?

Tons of options here, but I only considered AGM sealed batteries.  They can be mounted in any position, don't off-gas, and don't require any maintenance.  How many amp hours (AH) do I need?  I want as many as possible, without breaking the bank or loosing too much space in the van.  I decided on two 6V 225AH batteries that I will wire in series, which will give me 225AH at 12V.  This is about the minimum AH that I was willing to go with, but I am always able to add more capacity further down the road if need be.  Just like last time, I bought the VMAXTANKS batteries off of Amazon (somehow Amazon is able to ship these to you within a week of purchase for FREE).  These treated me well in the Econoline and seem to get good reviews with all the other RV'ers online.  I went with two 6V batteries as opposed to 12V based on information I had read on a couple sites stating that they are better suited for a deep cycling solar power setup; and the 6V batteries are more compact...which is nice.

Where to put the batteries?

When I first bought the van I had gotten the idea to mount the auxillary batteries underneath from Dakota over at traipsingabout.  I took the PM to a local shop to get a quote for the job and was told it would be minimum $1000 to mount two 6V batteries (just for labor, not including the batteries); not a price I was willing to pay.  Ok, figuring out how to strap two 70lb bowling balls under the van can't be that hard right?  I procrastinated on the project, toying with designs in my head; until I finally convinced myself it could be done.  Having no experience with metal work and fabrication, I contacted Iron Rose Forge & Welding LTD here in Boulder.  Amos does fantastic work and quickly corrected my initial design to make things simple yet bomber. 

Reworking the design

Iron Rose Forge & Welding LTD

The Design

I initially wanted to create a box that would house each battery, and then fabricate brackets that would screw into the chassis to hold them up.  Not going to happen with my skill set.  Amos recommended a simple design using two straight metal bars and four bars of all thread and pressing the batteries between the bottom of the van and the bars.  He assured me it would be plenty strong and it worked.  This was also a fast and cheap solution.  The metal and all thread were $30 and Amos charged his hourly rate for the labor, 40 minutes for $30.  

I picked up this mat to use as padding between the van/brackets and batteries...

and cut it to size

Same for the bottom

Simple but effective...one thing I forgot to do is spray paint the metal brackets to protect them from rust.  I plan to take them off at some point and do so.

The Install

I wanted to install the batteries on the drivers side of the van to even out the weight of the van a bit; the kitchen will go all along the passenger side wall and the weight of the cabinets will add up.  There was really only one spot underneath the van that would fit the two batteries remotely close side by side; right in between the brake line and exhaust pipe.  This wasn't quite as off-center as I would have liked.  Losing clearance height was another thing I was worried about with the install, but the batteries don't hang any lower than the exhaust pipe so I didn't lose any with these types of batteries.  

I traced the pattern of the batteries and brackets.  I bench pressed the batteries up to the bottom of the van while Michele made the marks.  This was before I realized using a jack would be WAY easier.

I should have done this before installing the sub floor.  The blue tape line is a rough guess of where the couch/bed will be.  I plan to run the wire through the floor up underneath the bed and hook it to busbars.

All thread set, ready to mount the battery.

Luckily I had access to a nice lift/jack that I was able to help mount the battery with. 

 

 

Installing a Solar Panel

Derek Bartz

Simply put a panel on your roof, plug it into a solar charger, and wire it to your batteries and you have a never ending supply of free energy (assuming the sun makes an appearance somewhat regularly).  I wanted to have as many watts on the roof as possible.  Most of the time the van will be parked and I will be relying on the panels to keep the fridge running and the lights on at night.  

After already taking up most of the space on the roof at the front of the van, I was left with the back third to play with.

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Building a Frame for Wood Paneling

Derek Bartz

The Promaster is a unique van.  It is boxy on purpose, to maximize space.  This also allows it to have near 90 degree walls.  In most vans, trying to build a straight wall would be a bad idea due to the large loss of interior space; but not the case for the PM's.  After a bit of trial and error, I was able to frame out the sides of the van with what appears to be near vertical walls without losing any square footage at the floor.  A couple of the metal support beams stick out the farthest and I worked off of them to ensure that the wood paneling would cover these points.  There is one tricky part near the top-center of the van that juts out further into the van than the remaining side panel and I plan to build around this minor obstacle instead of bringing in the entire wall in order to conceal it. 

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A Velux Skylight in a Van

Derek Bartz

Things got real when I cut a large hole (roughly 22"x39") in the ceiling of the new van, instantly decreasing the value with a single stroke of the jig saw blade.  But not to worry, something awesome was going to fill that void, a Velux vented skylight.  I scanned the interweb but could not find anyone else who has done this, but was so psyched on the idea that I just went for it anyways.  Last time around I put a skylight in the Econoline and it was one of the better elements of the van interior.  I really like this source of natural lighting, and rather than having another side window which eliminates the potential to build off of that space, the ceiling seems like the perfect place for an added window.

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A New Home

Derek Bartz

After living out of our Ford Econoline for the past 8 months and loving it, we went all in and invested in a real rig.  The idea was mentioned casually a couple time over the summer, Michele never quite took me serious; but I kept saying it and sometime in late October her response turned to a resonant, "Yea!  Why not."  I already knew what I wanted, and began searching the interweb.  I was willing to travel anywhere to save some cash, but in the end found a good deal right down the road here in Boulder.  I never thought it would actually happen.

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Royal Arch Route

Derek Bartz

Trip Date: November 22-26
Location: Grand Canyon National Park
Miles: 34 (+14 for the road walk)
Vert: 6,000'
Start/Finish: South Bass Trailhead
Permit Required?: Yes; $10 + $8 a day per person.  More info here.
Season: October-April.  Due to the heat of the inner canyon, June-September is not recommended for this  section of the Tonto Trail.
Directions: Found here

The Canyon never disappoints.  With a couple days off work for the holiday weekend we headed south for warmer temperatures in the best winter backpacking locale I know, Grand Canyon National Park.  No matter how many late fall/winter trips I take here I am always amazed at the climate changes one experiences descending 5,000' down to the river. Our plan was to explore the Shinumo Ampitheatre by descending the North Bass Trail and exiting via the Burro Route up Modred Abyss/the NW Fault Ravine.  Upon reaching the North Rim and turning onto Forest Service Road 22 I quickly realized that wasn't going to happen. The day

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