For mountain biking bliss, head to Slaughter Creek Trail

For mountain biking bliss, head to Slaughter Creek Trail

Pam LeBlanc rides at Slaughter Creek Trail on Feb. 23, 2020. Chris LeBlanc photo

Austin’s a mecca for mountain biking, but sometimes I feel like I spend more time getting off my bike to avoid the gnarly stuff than I do actually riding.

My favorite place to ride when I want some moderate terrain that’ll challenge my intermediate skills without leaving me in a sling? The Slaughter Creek Preserve in South Austin, where a 5-mile single-track loop serves up stair-steppy drops, rock gardens and flowy, rolling inclines.

The trail doesn’t require the technical skill that you need to navigate the bumps and grinds of parts of the Barton Creek Greenbelt or Emma Long Metropolitan Park (City Park), and it doesn’t attract the big crowds of Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park.

I made two loops of the circuit this morning, and it felt great to get my cycling legs back under me. I swim almost every day, but now and then it’s good to mix up the routine.

Chris LeBlanc rides down a rocky ledge at Slaughter Creek. Pam LeBlanc photo

The multi-use trail cuts through a 100-acre swath of land owned by the city of Austin and set aside to protect water quality. (Cyclists ride clockwise; hikers and equestrians head counter-clockwise. Cyclists should dismount and pull off to avoid startling horses.)

Confession: About five years ago, I busted my ass on a rocky incline near the start of the trail. (Limestone is sharp, people!) I wound up at the minor emergency center, but it didn’t keep me from coming back. And the good news is the trail’s been reworked in that section, so you can avoid the hazards that took me out.

I especially like this trail in the spring, when wildflowers are blooming. I’ve spooked up deer on occasion, too.

The Slaughter Creek Trail winds through groves of cedars and oaks, and includes flown sections over rocky terrain. Pam LeBlanc photo

The trail is doable for beginner and intermediate-level cyclists. I’ve made it through every obstacle on the loop, but I’ve never made an entire loop without dabbing a foot down at least once. You’ll find about seven or eight nice ledgy drops and climbs.

Not up for the entire loop? You can take a cutoff trial that trims about 2 miles off the circuit and still includes the highlights.

The trail is open from dawn to dusk daily, but closes after rain to prevent erosion.(Check here for closure information.) You have to drive through an automatic gate to get to the parking lot and trailhead, which is next to the old Trautwein homestead at 9901 Farm-to-Market 1826.

Chris LeBlanc rides the Slaughter Creek Trail on Feb. 23, 2020. Check the park’s Facebook page before heading out to make sure it’s open. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

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Forget Montana – Texas serves up some great fly fishing opportunities

Forget Montana – Texas serves up some great fly fishing opportunities

John Henry Boatright shows off a catch from a Central Texas river. Aaron Reed photo

If you’ve always thought of fly fishing as a hobby for wealthy people who waded around in Montana streams with a bunch of expensive gear, Aaron Reed begs to differ.

Just about anybody can learn to fly fish without spending a ton of money, he says, and they can do it in rivers and streams all around Central Texas.

Aaron, a fly fishing expert and native Texan who lives in Georgetown, drove more than 2,500 miles and waded and paddled more than 150 miles of waterways to research his new book, “Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas” (Imbrifex, $24.95). The guidebook, packed with photos, maps and tips, includes directions to more than 100 legal access points and more than four dozen wade and paddle routes within an hour’s drive of Austin. It also includes gear recommendations, tips on how to get started, information about the history and wildlife of the highlighted destinations, and suggestions on where to grab a bite and a beer when you’re done casting.

“I wanted to do what I could to demystify fly fishing,” Reed says. “There’s still a widespread perception it’s an elitist sport that’s expensive and hard to do. We certainly at one time deserved that reputation, but hopefully not so much now.”

Fresh bass! Aaron Reed Photo

These days, he says, anyone can get started for under $200, with gear that will last a long time.

As for that misconception that fly fishing is concentrated in places like Montana? Not so. Texas has a thriving fly fishing community, with five clubs between Waco and New Braunfels alone – as many as the entire state of Colorado. Austin is home to three fly shops, and three more are situated along the nearby Guadalupe River.

“There’s this incredible, vibrant community here that not a whole lot of people outside the state know about,” he says. “The idea is to serve that growing community and the incredible number of visitors who come in for Austin City Limits or South by Southwest music festivals, and pack a fly rod and go down to river and fish an hour.”

He says a recognition across the country that fly fishing isn’t just for trout and interest in warm water fisheries has put Central Texas at the forefront of the movement. People here are fishing for largemouth bass, Guadalupe bass, Rio Grande cichlids and even carp with fly rods.

“Austin for quite a long time has been on the radar worldwide as great place to catch wild common carp,” Reed says. “Carp is a huge sport fish in Europe … Fly fishing for them is catching fire, and we now have a series of carp fly fishing tourneys around the state, including one in San Marcos.”

Aaron Reed will sign copies of his new book at several locations in Central Texas this spring. Erich Schlegel photo

Want a signed copy of Reed’s book?

They’ll be available at the San Gabriel Fly Fishers meeting at 7 p.m. April 21 at the Boy Scout Hut in San Gabriel Park in Georgetown. He’ll also be signing from 1-6 p.m. May 2 at the Flies and Flame Expo at Star Hill Ranch, 15000 Hamilton Pool Road in Bee Cave; from 10 a.m. to noon May 9 at the Living Waters Fly Shop, 103 N. Brown Street in Round Rock; 3 p.m. June 6 at Lark & Owl Bookstore, 205 W. Sixth Street in Georgetown; and 5 p.m. June 20 at Book People, 603 N. Lamar Boulevard in Austin.

A party to celebrate the publication of the book is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. May 7 at Mesquite Creek Outfitters, 704 South Austin Avenue in Georgetown.

Edgar Diaz fly fishes in Onion Creek. Aaron Reed photo

 

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Banish ‘panda eyes’ with Snake and Pig goggles

Banish ‘panda eyes’ with Snake and Pig goggles

I’ve been testing a new pair of Snake and Pig goggles during swim practice at Western Hills Athletic Club. Photo by Chris Kemp

If you happen to spot me at the grocery store or coffee shop after swim practice, you might wonder if I’m morphing into a panda bear.

That’s because wearing swim goggles that suck onto your face like a vacuum cleaner for an hour causes dark rings to form around your eye sockets. (I think it’s your body, seeking revenge.)

It’s just a fact of life for swimmers, and I never gave it much thought until the other day, when a pair of Snake and Pig swim goggles arrived at Pam LeBlanc Adventure headquarters.

A Taiwanese engineer named Michael Menq (he’s the Snake, in Chinese calendar terms) and a Venezuelan communications expert named Melissa Gonzalez (she’s the Pig, in the same calendar) teamed up in 2016 to develop a pair of goggles that wouldn’t cause “panda eyes.”Their goggles feature double-walled gaskets that are softer than the gaskets on most goggles. They also come with three interchangeable nose pieces, to ensure a custom fit.

The Snake and Pig goggles, above, are beefier than the Speedo Vanquishers I’ve long worn, below. Pam LeBlanc photo

I’ve always worn Speedo Vanquisher goggles, which cost $21.99 at www.swimoutlet.com, and been fine with them. I like them because they’re low profile and fit my face without leaking. But I decided to test the Snake and Pigs, mainly because I like that they’re Austin born and bred and I dig the name. Plus, my husband wears them and loves them, as do several friends.

I’ve been using them for the past week. Thoughts so far? No panda eyes. No leaking. Comfortable, once I changed out the nose piece to a smaller size (easy!).

But the first two days I wore the Snake and Pig goggles, they kept fogging. I contacted a marketing representative, who suggested I dip the goggles in pool water just before practice and use my finger to smear around the built-in defog coating. I tried that, and it worked perfectly. No more fog.

I’m not sold just yet, though. I’m getting used to the slightly larger profile of these goggles. The straps are thicker and the goggles themselves are beefier, and the feeling is a little like wearing a pair of thick plastic-frame glasses when you’re used to more streamlined wire rims.

Plus, at $35 a pop for the Basilisk model I’m trying, they’re more expensive than what I’ve always used.

Still, I love supporting local products, and we’ve got a lot here in Austin, from Gossamer Gear to Howler Brothers to Yeti and Kammok.

Four local shops carry Snake and Pig goggles – Austin Tricyclist, Swim Freak and Tom’s Dive & Swim, all in Austin, and Blur Cycleworks in Round Rock. You can also buy them online at http://snakeandpig.com.They’re available in clear or several different colors of tinted lenses, which work well in bright sun.

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Dream about your next backpacking trip with ‘100 Hikes of a Lifetime’

Dream about your next backpacking trip with ‘100 Hikes of a Lifetime’

This new book from National Geographic had me dreaming about my next backpacking trip. Pam LeBlanc photo

When I sit back and think of the best moments of my life (so far), they’re always set against a backdrop of green (or sometimes blue).

I’m hiking. I’m backpacking. I’m paddling a canoe, riding a bike, sticking my feet in a mountain creek or scuba diving in a forest of coral.

When a copy of “100 Hikes of a Lifetime: The World’s Ultimate Scenic Trails,” by Kate Siber (National Geographic, $35) landed on my desk, I couldn’t wait to flip through it.

The book, a 400-page combination guide book and photo album, takes readers through a selection of hikes – short and long, beginner friendly and challenging – around the world.

I’ve hiked the John Muir Trail, the High Sierra Trail and parts of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I’ve lugged a pack up trails at Yellowstone National Park, Big Bend National Park and Glacier National Park.

Still, I’ve barely made a dent in what the hiking world has to offer. The book includes itineraries and basic information about each destination, from how many days you’ll need to set aside for the adventure and the best time to travel, to the mileage and difficulty level of each one. There are gear lists, tips on packing light, suggested post-hike activities and more.

Siber, the author, covers science, the environment, travel and outdoor sports for publications including Outside Magazine. She lives in Durango. Noted long-distance solo hiker Andrew Skurka wrote the forward.

Part of the fun of the book is seeing which hikes you’ve completed that made the list. I’ve done parts of several of the trips – the Sierra High Route, Angels Landing at Zion National Park, bits of Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, the lower parts of 19,393-foot Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador and the Cinque Terre in Italy.

The other fun comes in daydreaming about which trips you’d like to do. For me, that list includes the Via Dinarica in the Western Balcans, the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast of Hawaii, snow leopard territory in Bhutan and Havasupai in the Grand Canyon.

 

 

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At Monarch Mountain, steep terrain, a new ski dog and anniversary beer

At Monarch Mountain, steep terrain, a new ski dog and anniversary beer

Fawkes is a ski patrol dog in training at Monarch Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

I’ve skied every major ski resort in Colorado, from Aspen to Wolf Creek. Checked off my list so far? Telluride, Crested Butte, Steamboat, Winter Park, Keystone, Vail, Purgatory, Loveland, Breckenridge, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass.

During last week’s trip to the Colorado mountains, though, I traded expansive resorts with fancy hotels and mid-mountain lodges for smaller destinations without all the bells and whistles.

My first stop was Monarch Mountain, a 20-minute drive from historic old mining town of Salida, where I stayed three nights.

Chris LeBlanc overlooks some black runs at Monarch Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

I’d always skipped Monarch, assuming it didn’t have enough terrain to keep me interested. I was wrong.

“No frills, no fuss, no Prada store,” says Allie Stevens, marketing manager for the ski area. “Here it’s just fun turns and everybody gets to know each other.”

Monarch, which opened in 1938, is celebrating its 80thseason this year. We attended a history presentation led by Dr. Duane Vanderbusche in Salida, which provided some historical context (and a bunch of laughs, because he’s really funny) for the ski area. He told us Monarch started as a Works Progress Administration project (as did the hot springs pool in Salida, which I also visited).

The Mirkwood section of Monarch offers 130 acres of double black diamond (expert) terrain, but you have to hike (or take a Snowcat) to get there. Pam LeBlanc photo

Highlights?

  1. The lack of crowds. Monarch is off the beaten path for most visitors.
  2. Easy access to tree runs, my favorite, off main lifts like Panorama and Breezeway.
  3. The High Anxiety run – a steep, bumped swathe that lured me back again and again.
  4. The historic Gunbarrel run, originally accessible by what must have been the world’s steepest rope tow. Today that tow is long gone (although some of the old machinery is still visible at the top), and you have to hike up a short but steep incline to get there. Totally worth it.
  5. The ski area’s manageable size – 800 skiable acres, including 130 acres of hike-to terrain, and six lifts.
  6. That hike-to terrain! Mirkwood Basin, the best part of the entire ski area, offers 130 acres of double-black diamond expert terrain – the second steepest inbound terrain in Colorado, according to Monarch officials. You either have to hike there or buy a seat on a snowcat for the day. Either way, you’ll find amazing gladed runs, none of it groomed, all of it delicious.
  7. A sack lunch room, so you don’t have to spend money at the cafeteria at the base if you don’t want to.
  8. Lift tickets cost about half as much as the bigger resorts. Buy online the day before you ski and a pass costs about $79 per adult.
  9. The ski patrol dog-in-training, Fawkes. We met him near Mirkwood, where he couldn’t stop rolling on his back and grooving in the snow.
  10. The Monarch Throwback Red Ale brewed by Elevation Beer Co. to mark the 80thanniversary of Monarch. Beer is tasty after a full day of skiing!

 

Elevation has brewed a special beer to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Monarch Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

About Pam

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