Hiking the Birkebeiner: Part 1

(Well, not exactly the Birkie, but right alongside it. Also, “TH” in this post stands for trailhead. All trailheads can be found on Google maps.)

Again, summer is short and almost over so I’m doing my best to section hike the 30 some miles from Hayward to Mt. Telemark. The Birkie Trail is quite wide and has some steep hills. The CAMBA bike trail, which goes over much of the same terrain, winds through the shady woods and is probably a little longer in length – but goes to the same endpoint. I prefer hiking in the woods where it’s cooler and more interesting and up close to nature.

Dot to dot shows the second and third sections we have hiked. The challenge is to do the loops above and below as well, which roughly follow the Birkie trail from Hayward to Mt. Telemark in the Cable area. Total about 40 miles.

I have a friend, Gwen, who hikes with me. I feel it’s an act of God that we found each other since she seems to be willing to do strange (read extreme) things and shares the same love of challenges. And yet, she is not terrifyingly weird. I feel blessed.

It takes two of us in order to have a car at both ends of each day’s hike. Today we were meeting at 7 am at the trailhead and it seemed very early. The sun was barely up and was red orange behind a screen of smoke blown in from Canadian forest fires. We left my car at Gravel Pit TH and I jumped in with her for the ride to County Road OO TH. So far the sections we’d finished had been around 5 miles each from trailhead to trailhead. That’s a very reasonable couple of hours of hiking plus the drive time. This was going to be the longest yet, 7.3 miles, and we thought it might seem a little strenuous going through wooded, hilly terrain. Strenuous meant we justified bringing food along.

Hills, trees, rocks, water, repeat.

It was a perfect morning for hiking. We warmed up but never got really sweaty. Normally we talk a lot while walking, but this trek was long enough that we actually had some silent stretches where we just enjoyed looking around at the beautiful woods and listening to… nothing. No road traffic noise, no motor boats, no ATVs. There were birds. Birds are okay.

Yes, after not hitting that rock, they ride bikes between those trees. Insane. I had to be careful walking there.

For those who are interested in hiking in our area, here is our schedule and times. Whenever the bike trail is one way, I like to walk against traffic so I can see who is coming. Often the bikes are so quiet that they surprise us. During the week, we may not see any bikers at all. On weekends the trails are busier.

Our first section was Hatchery TH to Mosquito Brook TH. 4.6 miles in just under 2 hours

Second section was Mosquito Brook TH to Gravel Pit TH. 5.16 miles in 2 hours 15 minutes.

Third section, which we did today was Gravel Pit TH to OO TH. 7.3 miles in about 3 hours.

This section puts us half way to our goal. All three sections are parts of the single track Makwa Trail. All the trailheads are accessible by roads that they cross. The roads closest to Hayward are all paved but as we get farther from town, we are having to use fire lanes in the woods and they are gravel, but well maintained.

You can see our gravel access road, and the smoke haze from the fires north of Lake Superior.

For me, hiking is like soul food. I get hungry for it. It’s necessary for my sanity and never feels like time wasted.

All Trails Project: Henks Park Trails

This trail was not on the All Trails app, but it should be! I have learned how to suggest it be added and plan on doing that.

Millions of leaves, from millions of trees…

Another warm fall day was given to us in Wisconsin so I took another hike. In case you think time spent walking is time wasted, let me tell you it is not. Something about the rhythm of walking, and the peaceful, natural environment is perfect for creative thinking. If only I could remember all the ideas that come to me out in the woods…

If only the deer could read the signs.

Henks Park has recently appeared off a road I have traveled for years. Only about five miles south of Hayward on State Highway 27, it is well marked with nice maps available at the parking area. There are numerous loops of varying lengths. I explored today and was able to walk three miles without retracing my steps. All loops are in beautiful, deciduous woods with glacial ravines and hills. The nearest highway is out of sight but close enough to be heard – it is not a remote area and it would be hard to get lost.

There are picnic tables near each loop and a gazebo at the parking area. This kind of wooded area has deep ravines, most of which have a marsh or pond at the lowest elevation. There are hills to climb. I tried to photograph the ups and downs of the trail but the topography is hard to capture. The trail is well groomed and leaf covered in most areas – great for walking but I would not have wanted to be riding a bike up the leaf covered slopes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this bunch of trails and want to go back soon and record them for the All Trails App (unless the technology is more than I can figure out). Check out this beautiful park!

All Trails: Spring Creek

Seriously, I am going to love this app

I needed this walk to clear my head, and my lungs. The day was just too beautiful to stay inside.

I’m excited. After a couple weeks of recovery from travel (and from the broken wrist and surgery) I’m exploring a new app on my phone called “All Trails”. It’s designed to show hiking trails all over the U.S. and today it led me to one only 15 miles away that I hadn’t been on yet. One thing we have a lot of up here in northern Wisconsin is hiking trails and many of them are within a few minutes or hours of home – so why not make it a project to see how many I can explore? I needed an interesting challenge and now I have one.

Spring Creek Trail was a 2.5 mile loop that was labeled “easy”, and it was. Part of it was through the forest on a bike trail maintained by CAMBA (Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association) and about half of it was on a dirt road called Spider Lake fire lane.

I enjoy hiking with friends but sometimes I’m glad to be hiking at all, even if it’s alone. I didn’t mind being alone today. I didn’t see another person, or even another vehicle once I got off the main highway. The app tracks my progress on the trail, so I wasn’t worried about losing my way. But, I should have started with a fully charged phone battery, and will have to make that a priority in the future.

Bridges on bike trails are usually like this one…

I assumed the water I crossed over right away was Spring Creek. It was moving fast from our October snow melt. Yes, we’ve had 6 inches of snow on the ground already and some of it was still visible in the ravines, but today’s temp was 73 degrees! Several times on this walk I was aware of a stream of cold air coming off the low spots in the woods. There was ice on most of the pools.

I kept hearing a noise that sounded like a muffled motor starting up and assumed I was somewhere near a road. It took me a while to realize I was stirring up grouse on the trail. They take off through the trees and make a pretty cool sound. I also saw several deer on the trail ahead that turned to stare at me before running off into the woods. They were dark and almost invisible when they were looking at me, but hard to miss when their white tails started bouncing away. So beautiful.

This was an afternoon hike, around 3 pm, which I thought would give me plenty of time. It did, but already the days are short and the sun was getting low on the horizon, making the woods dark in places. The slanting light, shadows and silhouettes kept me using more of my limited phone battery for pictures – I couldn’t resist. Here’s my photo log of the Spring Creek Hike.

Not Done Yet

It snowed again this morning. I am not sitting in the chair in the picture, but I am in one close by with the same view. Winter knows its days are numbered, but March gives it one more month to exhaust itself. I am SO ready for the next season. It is now very important to keep going on and not lose heart.

I’ve gotten that message in so many ways – not that it’s a new thought that I must persevere. Every inspiring story ever told has the theme of “hang in there”. It’s probably because we humans are always finding ourselves in the “go numb and give up” state of mind over some circumstance in our lives.

I was all set to go visit my daughter, the one who is planning a wedding. We were getting ready for some good mother/daughter stuff, a bright spot to take up the last days of winter. And then along came COVID-19 and all the warnings for people over 60 and the immunosuppressed. That pretty much describes all the people that I come in contact with on a daily basis, myself included. Add to that, the fact that my daughter lives two crowded airports and 6 hours in a plane from me, in a city where the majority of U.S. deaths have occurred. Yep, Seattle. So, I’m not going there now. Thank you to all who helped me make the decision. (It was sensible, but hard anyway.) I’m not giving up on a chance to do this trip in the future – that’s where the perseverance comes in.

I also thought about the merits of continuance, keeping pace, and not giving up on a recent walk with my brother. Winter walking through the woods is a bit of an art. The path is very hard and slippery in places and very uneven, which makes me tend to look down and watch my footing (while running into branches at eye level…). I’m always conscious of the biting, cold air I’m breathing in, even while I’m sweating under layers of winter clothing. It’s a strange mixture of exhilarating and exhausting. But I can see my brother’s feet ahead of mine and I know if we keep putting one foot ahead of the other, we will finish the 3 mile loop.

Right, left, right, left, slip, scramble, hop to get in step again, KEEP GOING

Persevere, my friends. Rest and recoup, if necessary, but keep going. Whatever your “winter” is, DON’T GIVE UP.

This encouraging smile was in the snow along the trail. I added the hair.

Grand Canyon Leftovers

Yes, leftovers. These things I’ve written about my adventure hiking in the Grand Canyon have probably not taken you more than 2 or 3 minutes to read, on any given day.  When you consider that the whole experience was six days in the happening, you know there were lots of things I did not mention, yet.

There are some significant things I want to record for my own sake, and maybe for yours, dear readers.

I want to remember:

  • The El Tovar Hotel. Specifically, the ice cream shop and the booth where my brother sat as a teen and was encouraged to apply for summer work at the Canyon. He did, and that started his GC experiences and led to mine. Beautiful hotel with such a history.
  • Our knowledgeable, personable female guide, Nina. Her German heritage came out in her motherly care of us, her enthusiasm for beer, and her down to earth “so who needs a swim suit to go swimming” philosophy.
  • That it’s very handy to have an empty plastic Mayonnaise jar in the tent with you at night, ladies. Thank you again Nina.
  • How big, beautiful and dangerous the Canyon is.
  • That people are built to walk up easier (and longer) than to walk down.
  • That trekking poles are lifesavers when you are tired. Four points of balance are so much better than two.
  • That I can live through pain, and that pain’s memory fades (as in childbirth and hiking the South Kaibab)
  • That with enough rain, the desert can look so green and full of flowers.
  • That even in a place stamped with billions of years of time, the fact that I can see it, marvel at it, and wonder about it, means I am uniquely created to enjoy it in my brief span of time. Time is not the only measure of significance.
  • That I am truly blessed to not be living like I’m camping all the time, but that I get to camp out when I want to.
  • That you can get to know complete strangers pretty easily when you camp and hike with them, and most serious hikers are nice people. I enjoyed getting to know you Michael, Marlene, Steven, Mike, Bob and Kim.
El Tovar main lobby, from second floor balcony
El Tovar, second floor lobby near guest rooms

Coming Out

Do you see how far away that rim looks? How do I keep from thinking about that?

I kept looking up at what is called the Redwall, a formidable layer of red stained limestone above me. I could see no path taking me up beyond it and it was towering. After five hours of upward travel, the Redwall seemed like a dead end. The only thing I could think was that if I didn’t stop, if I just kept going, I would eventually get to the top. The mental challenge was every bit as big as the physical. I found myself praying frequently that God would strengthen me to keep moving and I warned him that I would someday ask him to explain this canyon to me. This beautiful, challenging, and mystifying place…

When I looked back over the distance I had already traveled I was aware that I had already come far. But most of my attention was focused on the ground where my next footfall would land. The second half of the Bright Angel Trail, right before the South Rim was a real struggle.

We had started that morning around 6, with cool weather and a possibility of rain. The Silver Bridge took us from the campground to the south side of the river. The trail stayed along the river for a while before heading out of the inner gorge on what the guides called “Devil’s Corkscrew”. It wasn’t as steep or difficult as I had expected and all of our crew made really good time. Again the scenery was powerful with frequent views of the trail below and above us, so three dimensional. Voices carry in the canyon and we could hear other hikers even when they were far away, like in an echo chamber.

Indian Gardens – trees, water, resting places

We reached Indian Gardens around 10 am a little ahead of schedule, and rested. What a beautiful place! Large cottonwood trees thrive around the creek, and green plants were plentiful. I can see why the Indian tribes chose to spend time there in the past. I could have spent more time there but we were urged on – the guides knew there were still 4.5 miles to go, some of it would be in the sun, and some of our group had expended most of their energy and strength.

Our group had spread out by this time and I lost track of my brother and his wife. I had seen them ahead of me and I didn’t want to fall too far behind them. I passed up the next stop at Three Mile because I would have had to come down a hill from the restroom and downhill was still too painful to choose unnecessarily. I skipped the stop at Mile and a Half because of the vicious acting squirrels trying to get people to share their snacks. I had heard squirrels were the most dangerous animals in the canyon and I found that believable. I wasn’t going fast at all – I felt like the only way to go slower would have been to stop. It’s possible I looked pretty wasted because lots of people asked me how far I’d come and tried to cheer me up.

I walked out of the canyon at 12:50 pm. I never did catch up with my family, and I found out it was because they were behind me, not ahead. Hmmm….

The member of our group who had trouble and the guide who stayed with him made it out two hours later. As we collected and went to find food we compared our experiences. My sister-in-law and I both were avoiding painful downward grades and well, we walked funny. We were sore. Both my knees hurt – I had actually taken the brace off the right one and put it on the left. I found out that if I kept walking even though I hurt, pretty soon that hurt would diminish and something else would hurt more. That was one of my more interesting observations about pain.

It was wonderful to know that I could stop walking, and that most of the places I would want to walk were relatively flat. I felt relieved of responsibility that had been impressed upon me numerous times, in books, in words, and on signs – the warning “to go into the canyon is an option, to come out is not”. I had gotten myself in, and with God’s help I was now out.

We Take a Rest Day

Phantom Ranch canteen, a good place to rest

As I said in the previous post, I did sleep, but the sore knee began to stiffen and hurt. The sore toe also began to swell and hurt. I could feel it all every time I tried to reposition myself in my sleeping bag. These pains are common reactions to this hike to the river, which is why there is a planned rest day, so called, which oddly consists of more hiking in the gorge. That little bit of less strenuous movement is supposed to keep muscles loose and functioning. We had breakfast, grabbed our water bottles and headed up Bright Angel Creek.

They aren’t pretty. They didn’t feel good either.

These feet did not fit into the hiking boots too well, but my camp shoes were wearable.  The pace was relaxed and the terrain basically flat, leaving me lots of time to snap photos and look around. We were travelling a beautiful gorge – I think the guide called it “the box” because of the steep walls on either side.

Testing the depth and strength of the current.

The trail went fairly gradually for a couple miles on the right side of Bright Angel Creek, and then we saw another gorge on the left side with its own smaller creek. The plan was to cross Bright Angel and explore the intersecting gorge and Phantom Creek. It promised a waterfall and swimming hole. However, the Bright Angel was running so swiftly that none of us liked the idea of trying to cross it.  Our guides looked for a place to cross but decided it was too risky. We might not have drowned, but could have gotten banged around on the rocks. (And the water was FREEZING!)

Granite, sandstone, schist, river rock, cactus… textures of the canyon

I always notice texture in nature, and there was plenty of it to notice. I took pictures of every interesting rock and plant I saw because they all just had the flavor of the canyon that I wanted to remember.  We were charmed by a little mule deer who kept showing up around camp too.  We stopped at the canteen again and sat around talking and making sure we didn’t get dehydrated.  The canteen and the other buildings of Phantom Ranch were designed by Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter (click here to read more) and are nestled around BA Creek.  In its heyday, Phantom Ranch had fruit trees, a swimming pool and other up-scale features for its more important guests. This tree is one of the few remaining fruit trees. Can you guess what it is?

Starts with a P

Later in the day we went down to the Colorado, to the Boat Beach and got wet – some more than others. It was very cold as well, but refreshing. We visited the Silver Bridge, which we would travel out on the next day.

Brother Robert and I – he got wet, me not so much.

The wind was picking up around dinnertime and some of our tents were actually being blown around. Storms were forecast and temperatures were supposed to go way down. Surprisingly, the bad weather skirted around us and what we got was some gorgeous views of the moon and clouds instead. We all went to sleep early so we could break camp at 4 am and get started on the ten mile hike out to the rim.

Moonlight in the canyon

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

To be continued…

The Grand Canyon – Seeing for Myself

I’m back alive. It’s exhilarating to have met the challenge, to be one of the less than one percent of the 6 million visitors to the canyon who actually get below the rim.

The first thing I have to say is that distances are deceiving. We so often view the canyon in a two dimensional picture, and it is beautiful even then. But it is not a two dimensional place at all. Distances are far greater than they appear. Depths are deeper. Heights are higher. So many things are hidden behind a bend, or a cliff. A single element of the canyon, visible from the rim, may still be visible four or five miles closer and it will look slightly different from every vantage point along the way.

I want to share these views and vistas because they are the legendary beauty of the canyon. They did much to make the hike worthwhile and were a constant source of wonder and inspiration.

Is it hard for me to believe in a creator God, when the evidence is laid out for us to see – evidence of millions of years of deposition, of soil and rock, with fossils embedded? “Time and the river flowing” is written all over this canyon, but so is the mark of an amazing artist. I can believe in the story geology tells because I believe that God also created time. Science has not yet told me how he did that and it’s a question I hope to ask him, someday. I am thankful for what I saw. It increases my faith. Look at these, and wonder.

Getting there is half the fun…

I don’t know who said that but I hope they’re wrong. Travel is amazing, and interesting but I wouldn’t call it fun.

I and all my devices got in the truck and made our way to Minneapolis last night. We had a short sleep in a motel, where I left the truck. Everything went so smoothly at the airport that I started wondering why. I finally realized that it’s one of the benefits of traveling solo. Don’t get me wrong – I love traveling with companions as well, but this kind of freedom has a charm all its own. I don’t have to match anyone in my likes, dislikes or pace. I can be as early or as late as I choose. I can eat or go without. I have one person to watch out for – me.

I am now safely in Arizona, sitting in the waiting area for the flight to Flagstaff. I decided to check in here with a short post because I have over four hours to wait and have to fill the time. I know it won’t be long before I will have to forget my “devices” and start experiencing this hike without them.

This is my first trip in a long time without my computer. Instead I’m using my phone for everything – it’s camera, tablet, caretaker of boarding passes, as well as communication central. What a device! And I have paired it with this tiny little bluetooth keyboard, which so far is doing a great job.

I sat next to a dog! I saw a fairly large man walking around in the gate area before the flight and noticed him because he had this tiny dog on a bright red leash. You don’t see this every day. Later, much later because I was in the last zone to board the plane, I got to my seat and there they were again. The little fella was so quite, slept all the way to Phoenix, and licked my hand when he woke up after we landed. Make me decide between sitting next to a kid or a dog, I’ll take the dog.

In addition to being a travel day, yesterday was Mother’s Day. It was so nice to spend it this year with my mom, my youngest daughter and my brother’s family. We went to church, had a wonderful family brunch that I wish I had taken a picture of but didn’t. We took walks and talked. Later, at the motel, I got a call from eldest daughter to round out the day.

Thanks again for the book Ryan! And this is my mini-keyboard folio.

So here goes four hours of waiting. I have a book to read. Food and drink is close at hand. Fun is ahead as I look forward to meeting up with brother Bob and Elizabeth. It’s hard to believe I’m here, so far from where I started this morning, in such a different place.

A very different place than the one I left this morning. Yes, real mountains…

It’s Happening!

The Adventure Starts

Now the rest of the events will unfold, sort of like the domino that falls and starts the whole line up toppling, one after the other.

Suitcase (and daughter) finally made it.

I consider the adventure to have started yesterday when I left for the Minneapolis airport to fetch youngest daughter to us. It was a successful trip with the usual number of unexpected turns. Her route from Seattle was through Dallas (everyone’s intuitive path…) so the storms there delayed the flight 90 minutes. Then her luggage got put on another plane and we waited another hour for that to arrive. But she made it! We were home by 11 pm.

We have Mother’s Day to celebrate with a family brunch after church today. I have packing to finish and hopefully a relaxing walk somewhere – it is warm and sunny and spring is springing. This evening I will drive back to Minneapolis and hopefully get some sleep before my early flight out to Flagstaff. It seems quite unreal that one week from this moment I will be back here, sitting in this chair probably, having gone through it all.  One week of unknown adventure and unique Grand Canyon views (and possibly physical torture…). It will be over. How does time do that to us?