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.

Dog Therapy

Five days to go, then the adventure starts. I’m worried.

It’s another rest day, with only about 4,000 steps. My legs are feeling tired very quickly and there’s a hint of shin splints. I’m worried that this will continue, or that I’ll do something unwise like switch my shoes out, or forget something important, or get sick.

For some reason this is also the week when we have meetings with a lawyer to get our wills settled (a two hour trip to the city), and the week when paperwork for our house sale closing is being mailed back and forth, a physical exam for a new life insurance policy, and the week when youngest daughter is flying here to be with her dad while I’m gone. There is a lot going on. A lot to get ready for.

Yes, right around that ear, and don’t stop.

That is why I took time yesterday to run away to the empty sun porch over at my brother’s house. It was a time to just sit, do some journaling and thinking. It was a time for “dog therapy”. Scruffy came and sat on my lap.

Scruffy and I have gradually gotten used to each other over the last few months. I sometimes take him for a walk, and I’m usually along when his mom and dad take him for a walk. I always pet him and try to make him feel special. He didn’t always come up and want to sit on my lap, but we seem to have bonded now.  I pet him, and since he can’t really pet me back (but I think he would if he could) he licks my hand. I think that’s dog language for “pet me more”.

Scruffy and I have things in common. For one, we have hair the same color. We both love to go for walks and are easily distracted when we are outside. We’re both a bit aged. I could think of more, but that will do. All this to say that when we sit somewhere together and just chill, it is relaxing, for both of us, but especially for me. I think I worry about more things than Scruffy does. Dog therapy is quite effective since I take my cues from him and don’t worry about anything except whether my lap is comfortable for him to lay on. He is most definitely a lap dog.

Cricket, Ellie? Hope you’re having a good dog day!

Scruffy says hi to Cricket and Ellie and wants them to know he enjoys their astute comments. Dogs really have it together. Just sayin’…

Thirteen Thousand Steps

One day this week I took a longer than usual walk, for training purposes. Since the first day walking at the Grand Canyon will be at least four hours of descent, I’ve been trying to think of places that would be interesting for the longer training walks. The trails around Hospital Lake fit the description.  Hospital Lake, named for the Hayward Area Memorial Hospital which can be seen from nearly every vantage point around the lake, not only has ski and hiking trails but actually has a very cool bike trail designed and maintained by the Chequamagon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA).

ATV trail on old railroad bed

From home, I took the railroad bed ATV trail. Right away I had to take pictures of the fungi and moss. There aren’t a lot of green things growing yet so these plants get top billing. And they are so interesting they deserve it.

Love these colors and textures!
Different!
Mullein
And a bit of color.

A short distance on Hospital Road, and then I ducked into the pine woods where I knew I would intersect with a trail. It’s a small enough area that is fairly familiar to me so I wasn’t concerned about getting lost. My motto is “I’m never lost if I don’t care where I’m going.” So true. And if the goal is to get in as many steps as possible…

All the trails aren’t this wide and smooth. This is one of the ski trails.

In opting for whichever trail looked most interesting, I ended up on some I had not seen before. I discovered that some new trails were being made in the woods by workers with heavy equipment – they weren’t there at the time but there was lots of evidence. Part of this forest is old growth pine – trees which always have me in awe of their size and bearing. Guardians of the forest, who have seen a lot of action.

The guardian and his weapons.
Swans on Hospital Lake

Reaching the lake, I got a glimpse of swans on the far edge, too far for a good picture. I counted five and watched them for a while.  On the way out I did try a couple trails that took me in circles, and again I ended up in places I hadn’t seen before. The area is bigger than I thought. Thirteen thousand steps, for me, is 5.84 miles and I was beginning to feel the strain so I headed home. My sis-in-law met me on the way back and we walked home together.

Hospital Lake – beautiful area for walking, biking or in winter, skiing. Try it if you are ever in Hayward.

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’.

Why?

Why?

Do you ever wonder why you are drawn to adventure? Even if you only like to read about adventure, discovery, exciting lives and times, have you stopped to think about why those stories are appealing? Why do we have bucket lists? Why do we purposely choose some challenges and count them worth the pain they may cause? Why do I want to sleep on the ground for five nights, hike 20 miles up and down a distance greater than four Empire State Buildings, in uncertain weather with only what I can stuff into one duffel bag, and do all this with 7 strangers who might snore even worse than I do? Why?

My thinking – it’s because we are made in the image of an adventurous God. Big plans, big ideas, a view of existence so broad and all encompassing that we can’t begin to understand it, all that starts with him. It’s mystery and we are made to be curious and to seek it out.

The Grand Canyon is a project on a scale bigger than we can imagine, yet the processes that formed it were designed and patiently overseen.  Colin Fletcher in “The Man Who Walked Through Time” was trying to wrap his mind around the length of time represented by the Grand Canyon – millions of years.  He had this to say, and I quite agree.

 “Most of us, when we first think deeply about such time spans, tend to draw back in fear from their brink, just as we tend at first to draw back in fear from the brink of anything so immense as Grand Canyon. But it is worth remembering, I think, that some element of fear probably lies at the root of every substantial challenge. And it makes no difference at all whether the challenge is to your mind or to your body, or whether – with richer promise than either, alone – it embraces both.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 4 by Colin Fletcher

That fear thing! I will admit to being drawn to things that are capable of frightening me.  Isn’t that the essence of challenge? I am habitually choosing challenges, small, large, and in between, because I want to know if I can prepare well enough, mentally and physically.  The prospect of seeing and experiencing wonderful things that I would otherwise miss pulls me into adventure.

My adventure is somewhat ridiculous when compared to Colin Fletcher’s goal of walking the Grand Canyon from one end of the park to the other, but another quote from him resonated strongly with me.

 “I looked east and west, as far as my eyes could strain, until cliff and terrace tapered way into hazy distances. It was mysterious and terrible – and beckoning. And some time during the afternoon, as I sat on the rink of this strange new world, it came to me that if a route existed, I would walk from one end of the Canyon to the other. Once the idea had crystallized, no hideously sensible doubts reared up to plague me.  And I did not need such fragile props as “reasons”. The only question I asked myself was whether the project would turn out to e physically possible. Perhaps it is in this kind of simple certainty that most of the world’s ridiculous and wonderful dreams are born.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 6 by Colin Fletcher

Hmm… I know what he means by “hideously sensible doubts” and from time to time they may plague me.  But sometimes, like with this Grand Canyon thing,  a challenge just comes to me, from out of nowhere, and if it’s physically possible to do it, I don’t need reasons. Just sayin’…

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’…