Zigzag

the letter Z

Distances in the Grand Canyon are described in various ways by those who have hiked them frequently. There are straight line miles, “as the crow flies” miles, and the miles spent zigging and zagging, as Colin Fletcher called it.  From “The Man Who Walked Through Time”,

“Cross-country on foot, miles are always misleading: the hours are what count. In the Canyon, miles become virtually meaningless. From start to finish of my journey I would cover, in a straight line, only forty-three. The river mileage came to one hundred and four. When I ran the map measurer from one end to the other of my proposed route, carefully following each winding contour, it registered just two hundred. But I felt sure, and Harvey Butchart greed, that I would walk at least four hundred miles as the foot slogs. And there were times when I would be lucky to travel half a mile in an hour.”

Another word, switchback, is often used to describe hiking trails and roads that go up or down steep hills. The trail will go in one direction up the hill, turn 180 degrees and continue uphill in the opposite direction, and repeat until the hill is climbed. The main purpose of this zigzag process is to protect the hill, and the trail from erosion. It is also a way of controlling the grade for ease of hiking, although it makes the distance considerably longer.

Almost every place I’ve hiked has been in hilly or mountainous terrain. Often there are switchbacks and there will also be signs to stay on the trail and not take shortcuts. Shortcuts that go straight down the hill will get worn down and become a path for rainwater to follow, producing erosion and eventually the trail will be ruined. It’s tempting at times but I’ve learned not to take those shortcuts.

The descent into the canyon includes so much vertical distance in such a short space that there will be a lot of zigzagging, especially on the South Kaibab. The picture below is of a section of the Bright Angel Trail, the upper left corner and lower right corner have a lot of visible switchbacks. Looking at this picture makes me think this is going to be a long, grueling climb. What fun! I can’t wait. The word zigzag is interesting because of the z’s which sort of mimic the shape of a switchback. 

portion of Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon
Switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail (most visible at top left and bottom right)
photo from canstock.com by Kelly Vandellen

We are at the end of the alphabet once again. The A to Z is a valuable writing experience for me, but more than that, it is a joy to meet others in this online blogging community. I am always amazed at the creativity, the sharing of comments and encouragement, the friendship extended, and the way it is all shared through the written word. Thank you to everyone who read and commented, and to the organizers of the A to Z. It has become my April habit.

YIZI GO

YIZI GO This is a portable camp chair made by Trekology. Who knew that I needed a camp chair? According to the hike guidelines it is nearly a necessity, listed in fourth place, right after tent. They must have anticipated my skepticism because they also listed their reasons, “Canyon surfaces are invariably hot, cold or uncomfortable to sit on”.  Okay.

So, I dutifully went online and spent four hours reading reviews and looking at camp chairs. What a job!

Do I want it to be light enough to carry for miles, or do I want it to be strong enough not to break when I sit on it? If I believe reviews, it’s one or the other, not both.

My chair, here it is.

I decided on the YIZI GO. Do you know why? Yes, so I would have a pretty cool subject for the letter Y. No kidding. It also turned out to be a good buy and I feel favored in my choice. I put it together a couple of times and once I learned how, it wasn’t as hard as the reviews indicated. I sat in it and it was comfortable. It has adjustable legs so it can be a little higher than some, and yet it is lighter than quite a few of the models. I like that it has a little pocket, a carry sack, and a ground tarp (had to order this extra) so the legs don’t sink into the dirt.

There are so many interesting pieces of equipment that are tempting to buy. I have a hard time getting out of stores that sell camp equipment without getting something. But this was the only one that had a really useful name. We all have our reasons… just sayin’.

Unable

Unable

It seems I am unable to come up with any U word that has relevance to my Grand Canyon adventure, other than unable. I was complaining about this to my brother and sister in law tonight while we were walking around the wetlands, enjoying 60 degree weather and the sights and sounds of spring.  They felt obligated to help me out with these suggestions:

  • Underwear (not sure I need to write about that…)
  • Ugly (that would be why I’m not writing about my underwear)
  • Underwire (not even in my underwear vocabulary)
  • Under (appropriately broad topic…)
  • Useful (but I think I’ve covered all the useful gear already, or plan to)

 Since I only have a few hours of April 24th left, I’m just going to combine all the above in a very short post.

Yes, I’m taking UNDERWEAR, serviceable, comfortable but possible UGLY underwear, which rules out anything UNDERWIRE. In my single person tent, UNDER my sleeping bag, I will have a USEFUL sleeping pad. I’ve never had a good night’s sleep on it but it insulates and is better than nothing. I also went to the thrift shop today and found a light weight, long handle spoon which will be very USEFUL.

And the last things I will say about this adventure is that it is a bit UNUSUAL but not UNPLANNED. Here is a picture of some of my USEFUL gear.

backpacking gear - tent, sleeping bag and pad, water pack and mess kit.
Top to bottom: Plastic bin to hold my gear, sleeping pad (compressible foam but also can be inflated) Camelback water pack and mess kit, my tent, Naljean water jar, down sleeping bag.

Trekking Poles

On most of my long hikes, somewhere along the way I’ve found a stick I could carry and lean on.  On one of the Appalachian jaunts I picked up a ridiculously heavy branch and kept it because it had a natural hand grip that I liked. It has been varnished and is where I keep all my hiking stick badges – the kind made of metal that you can nail on.  It’s pretty but not very practical.

But now I am happy to report that I have real trekking poles. I’ve only used them once but I was very happy I had them.  They are like having an extra arm, or maybe an extra leg to support, share the weight, and give balance. It’s definitely worth looking at what’s out there and getting some poles if you are going to do a lot of walking on uneven ground.

I searched in all the usual places – Amazon, REI, sporting goods stores – and finally found a company called Montem, that makes trekking poles and, well… pretty much just trekking poles! It’s their area of expertise.

Trekking poles should be strong and light, adjustable in length, and have comfortable hand grips. I’m very satisfied with mine. I chose hand grips made of cork because I thought they looked cool because they are soft, and somewhat absorbent when my hands get sweaty. The adjustable length feature has strong locking clamps that hold well, and they will telescope down to a length that fits in a suitcase. That’s very handy when you fly somewhere to hike.

Close up of adjusting mechanism and hand grips.

I’m sure that the poles will really help on this hike, especially on the knee jarring descent. My brother, who knows, told me so. I’m going to believe him.

Have you tried using trekking poles for a hike or even a long walk around the neighborhood? You never know when you’re going to have to fend off a stray dog, or need to poke something. Might as well have a good pole, just sayin’…

South Kaibab Trail

We are on the homestretch of the A to Z this week with only eight letters to go. As in hiking, this final stretch is going to be challenging since I no longer have posts written ahead and am getting tired (and would rather enjoy spring outside than do writing inside). It feels like uphill all the way…

The South Kaibab Trail is the one my hike will start on – they call it a corridor trail, meaning that it is one of two or three that is regularly patrolled and maintained. It is part of the Arizona Trail system going all the way from Mexico to Utah.

After our first day of having our gear checked over and learning about the area we will walk through, I’m guessing we will meet early at Bright Angel Lodge and take the first shuttle bus of the day to the trailhead. It’s a ways away from Grand Canyon Village and there is no parking there for private vehicles. We will start our descent of 4,700 feet over the next seven miles. We will meet mules and other hikers on the trail. There are a couple restrooms on the way, but no water sources until we reach the bottom of the canyon. About the only shade will be from the canyon walls. The grade will be as steep as 22% at the final section and there will be many switchbacks. Doesn’t that sound like fun? But wait, it’s worth it.

There just aren’t a lot of ways to go down these amazing cliffs.  The South Kaibab was supposedly built to foil Cameron who had started charging $1 per person to use the Bright Angel Trail. It is steeper and shorter but has some of the most amazing views available.

  • One of them is .9 miles on the way and is called Ooh-Aah Point, because that is what most people say when they get there. I’m going to try to say something more original. It’s a good distance for a casual day hike.
  • Next is Cedar Ridge at 1.5 miles, another good point for day hikers to turn around.
  • Followed by Skeleton Point at 3 miles, where there is reportedly a 360 degree view of the canyon, and the first view of the river.
  • Followed by Tip Off at 4.6 miles where the steepest section of switchbacks starts, taking us down to the Black Suspension Bridge, Bright Angel Camp and Phantom Ranch. 

Although it is described as knee jarring, it is all downhill, right? I think I can do it.

The river – there it is!

Reservations

Even as I was typing the R word, I realized several applications of the word to my study of the Grand Canyon and my upcoming hike. 

Reservations #1

As I began reading “A River Running West” the life of John Wesley Powell, I found interesting stories of how the Midwest was settled and the Native Americans living there were forced west. They did not share the concept of land ownership that European settlers had, and eventually found themselves limited by government treaties to reservations. Most of the land surrounding the Grand Canyon is reservation land for various Native American tribes.  John Wesley Powell had very strong opinions about this and also a strong respect for and interest in Indian culture. When he later became influential in exploring and surveying in the western states, he was responsible for putting the Grand Canyon on the map and that is one of his big accomplishments.

I’m pretty sure the Indians didn’t always get a fair shake as this country was settled. I feel bad about that and I think John Wesley Powell did too.

Reservations #2

The other kind of reservation I need to mention is the kind you need for many of the special things in Grand Canyon National Park.  Visitors to the park number around 5.5 million each year. There are long lines of traffic, especially on holidays and other times when people vacation. Because there is limited parking space in the park there are services in nearby towns that include a shuttle bus ride to the park. Flagstaff, Sedona, Tusayan and other nearby towns also have numerous guided tours (do you want to ride in a pink jeep? they have it), helicopter tours, whitewater river rafting and other excursions.

There are five holidays when admission to the park is free. Otherwise, you must have a pass ranging in cost from $35 for a vehicle and all riders to $20 for an individual. All those passes are good for seven days. There are special passes for year long admission, for military families, seniors.  Trip planning suggestions and admission information for all kinds of park passes can be found here www.thecanyon.com/fees or at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm 

Going into the canyon for more than a day requires a backcountry permit, no matter where you intend to camp. For the preservation of the canyon, the number of people allowed to go in is limited. We missed one whole year because we didn’t apply early enough. The reason we are able to go on this trip is because my brother joined the National Park Conservancy, and got immediate notice when the trips opened for application.

Most of the visitors arriving for a day take one of the bus rides along the rim or hike part way down one of the major trails and back. These ways of viewing the canyon only require a park pass, not any special permits and offer a good taste of the canyon’s beauty, but if you need a hotel for your stay, you had better make a reservation.

Reservations #3

Lastly, on the topic of reservations, are the reservations I have myself about doing this hiking trip. I wonder whether my knees are going to last, whether I’ll get by with little sleep, if I’m strong enough physically and mentally. So, I have them, but my reservations are not going to keep me from going ahead, just sayin’…

Qabab

Yes, it really is a word. It is the name of a dish consisting of pieces of seasoned meat. However, it has nothing to do with the Grand Canyon. I’m hoping the alphabet police won’t notice I’m going off theme.

I could only come up with one Q word having something to do with the canyon and that was quartz.  I didn’t even want to try to make quartz an interesting subject, although I’m sure some would be able to do that. So instead I chose qabab, which interestingly, is kind of like the Grand Canyon word Kaibab – that’s my excuse. There’s not a lot to tell about qabab either, except that it is more commonly spelled kebab. Shish kebab. We all know what that is and have probably enjoyed those seasoned pieces of meat roasted on skewers with vegetables stuck between them.

What I would really enjoy writing this post about is this A to Z exercise of researching my coming adventure.  It has been so helpful to me, as I learn ahead of time about the things I will be seeing and experiencing.

In some ways, it has dispelled the fear of the new and unknown. I have looked at the details of the trails I’ll be walking. The history of the buildings, the inhabitants of the area, the development and tourism aspects, the geography – all of it is a bit familiar now.  I’ve thought through all the travel arrangements and rehearsed mentally what each day will be like. Some of it may turn out differently, but I at least know one way it could turn out.

The only unusual and unexpected result from my posts has been comments from friends and relatives who are now worried about me going on this hike.  I am having to explain why I would want to do such a thing. The husband looks at me and says “you’re not 25 anymore, you know”.  It’s like people are thinking I’m going to run my wheelchair off the edge of the trail.  I’m not going to start having second thoughts about this – that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

And as long as my Q word is unrelated to the Grand Canyon hike, I thought I’d post a couple pics also unrelated to the Grand Canyon. They are from my first extended hike on the AT with four lovely young women. Now that was an adventure. The first one was taken by the gentleman who gave us a ride to our starting point (we hiked back the 30 plus miles to our car). Our packs were so heavy, and we were so “green”. I’m sure he thought we would never make it. But we did.

Julie, Maura, me Esther, Kim
Me in my dork costume.

The countdown has started, 24 days to go… I CAN’T WAIT. Well, I can, but you know what I mean. Just sayin’…

Nourishment

A to Z Blogging Challenge, the letter N

(Because we have to eat…)

Eating is a part of hiking that has always interested me. (Actually, isn’t eating a part of almost everything, and what’s not to like about that?) It is challenging to plan for a time when physical demands on the body are great and food is… well, scarce.  On this hike, we will have to pack our meals and snacks for three days, carry fuel and gear to cook the food, and make sure we leave no packaging behind. Some of the food needs to be accessible on the trail as we walk. And, of course, we need to carry enough water for drinking as well as cooking. Here’s our plan.

My brother has some “rations”, dried meals, that he wants to use for the nights when we will be in camp. These will be simple, just add hot water and stir, meals that are designed to be high in calories and electrolytes. We know we will be hungrier than usual and the recommendation is to increase our calorie intake by half – 3,000 calories per day at least.  Other than these two evening meals I don’t plan to have to heat anything – that will mean less fuel to carry and less time spent cooking.

Dried or dehydrated meals are really great because they are light.  Our guidelines say our food for the day should only weigh between 1 and 1.5 pounds. If it’s heavier than that, it isn’t the right food.  

The noon meals while hiking will be short stops, so I want to take tuna or chicken in foil packs, and some kind of cracker. We will also be snacking on trail mix, nuts, Kind bars, and dried fruit. I tend to like salty foods rather than sweet while hiking because I know I need the electrolytes. Sodium is especially important to avoid dehydration (see my D post for more on that). Another way I’m going to watch my electrolyte balance is by putting powder Gatorade or similar drink mix in my water.  The flavor helps me drink more of it too.

packaged trail mix
Jumbo bag to be split up into zip-locks and carried for snacks on the go.

Other than the foil packs for the dried meals and the tuna/chicken meals, I want to repackage my snacks in zip-locks so I don’t have wrappers to dispose of. I can use the zip-locks to hold whatever trash I do have to haul out. 

Our food guidelines included a few other tips such as:

  • Include some spicy sauces to add to bland foods like rice or instant dried beans
  • Hot cereals are great for breakfast if you have time to boil water
  • Dry instant milk, dried meat like turkey or beef jerky are other dehydrated foods that work well
  • Granola gives some crunchy variety to breakfast or snacks
  • Avoid anything in a can – heavy and you have to carry it out too
  • Avoid fresh fruit that will get bruised, or affected by the heat

Just thinking about all this dried stuff makes me hungry and thirsty for fresh vegetables and fruit and something cold to drink. And that brings me to the final part of the hiking experience that I look forward to – the meal after the return to civilization.  Deprivation heightens appreciation, just sayin’…

Mules…

Thank you, Mule.

I’ve mentioned already that this hike, sponsored by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute, is titled “Take a Load Off: Mule Assisted Camping 0514”.  My brother was being thoughtful of me and his wife, thinking that we would be better off having assistance from some friendly mules. The mules have agreed to carry a duffel bag for each of us which will lighten our load considerably.

On our first day we will meet at about 10 am to have our equipment checked over by our guide, and then our tenting equipment, some of our food and clothing – basically anything we don’t need on the descent – will be packed in the bag allowed us. I think our mule train will start that afternoon. I’m guessing they will go down the Bright Angel Trail, cross the Colorado on the Black Bridge and stay the night at Phantom Ranch (see this pic of mules crossing scary bridge). Almost everything that goes to Phantom Ranch goes by mule, including supplies for the canteen meals and goods sold in the store. Duffel transport is a common expense for hikers, especially ones going up who don’t want all that stuff on their own backs.

A lot of people ride the mules to Phantom Ranch too but the park video says the people getting off the mules are just as tired and sore as the ones who hiked the trail. Excuse me for laughing, haha. When you don’t ride for hours at a time as a regular thing, that is exactly what happens.  

Our hike guidelines give specific instructions to hikers who might happen to meet a mule train on the trail. We are to back up against the uphill side of the trail and wait quietly until the last mule has passed and is at least 50 feet away. Although the mules are well trained and mostly stick to business, if they are harassed or startled it can result in an accident. It is a real shame when a mule is lost off the trail, as you can imagine. And worse yet if a hiker falls, which is why we are given the uphill side. Lucky us.

Book Cover for Brighty of the Grand Canyon

Mules have a real history in the Canyon. An old children’s book which I read to my children years ago was “Brighty of the Grand Canyon”. It was kind of a history lesson of the prospecting days, when miners traveled the canyon looking for gold, with a mule carrying their provisions. Brighty, the mule, is the star of the book – kind of the Black Beauty of the mule world.  A great book about the canyon, and not just for kids. I loved it. Earlier this month a reader reminded me of this story that she had also read and loved. I’m not sure but I think Brighty might have been a burro (small donkey), which is different from a mule, but close enough for these purposes.

The little corral at Phantom Ranch looks just the same as it did when first constructed in the 1920’s. I’m hoping to hang out there a little and talk to some of the handlers because I’m curious about where the mules come from and how they are trained. I know they are very reliable and sure footed, which makes them a good fit for terrain in the canyon.

Indians

Indians or Native Peoples of the Grand Canyon area

My first visit to a pueblo was several years ago at Mesa Verde in Arizona.  Pueblos are multi-room dwellings made of clay and the ones at Mesa Verde were built in the clefts of a canyon wall. The native people who lived there were most likely Anasazi, who left the area in the 1300’s A.D. during years of drought. They vanished, leaving behind these remarkable dwellings. They were named Anasazi, or Ancient Ones by the Navajo people north of the canyon.  It is an amazing place to visit.

There were different tribes of the pueblo peoples who inhabited the Grand Canyon, most of whom were semi-nomadic farmers and hunter gatherers. They traveled back and forth from rim to lower canyon to rim, depending on the season. Many of their trails are still present and used by visitors. Indian Gardens is a campground on the Bright Angel Trail but was once an area farmed by the Havasupai tribe.

Presently, one place to experience Native American culture is on the Havasupai Reservation in Havasu Canyon. That is one part of the canyon that my brother has not visited yet and still hopes to. We tried to get reservations to visit there last year but could not. The Havasupai have their own tourist bureaus and quotas of visitors. I love what their name means – “people of the blue-green water”.  They and the Walapai tribe (“people of the pine tree”) live in the western region of the South Rim.

The Grand Canyon Skywalk, on what is called the West Rim of the canyon, is actually on the Hualapai Reservation and outside of Grand Canyon National Park. It is an amazing cantilever bridge, out from the cliff in a horseshoe shape, and 4000 feet above the canyon floor.  Add to that a glass walkway and you have a real tourist attraction.  I have seen pictures of people who became paralyzed with anxiety as they looked down and had to be carried off the walkway. 

There is a lot of controversy within the Hualapai tribe and outside of the tribe concerning this bridge. There are people on the environmentalist side who aren’t sure it’s a good way to preserve the canyon. There are others on the practical side who feel the bridge is a way to raise money for serious needs of the tribe. It’s complicated.

The Hopi people live in the eastern section of the South Rim, and to the southeast are the Zuni tribes. North of the canyon is the Paiute Reservation in the west and the Navajo Reservation in the east. The Navajo were latecomers to the region and lived in the canyon itself only in the 1860’s when being pursued by the U.S. Cavalry. In addition to farming and herding, many of the tribes are craftsmen/women in cloth weaving, basketry, pottery and jewelry making.  You’ve probably heard of Navajo blankets and rugs, right?