Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 1, Part 1

I woke up every one or two hours during the night, partially because of the cold, and partially because of my excitement and fear of oversleeping. Nearby, a large herd of Elk bugled all through the night. I was relieved when my alarm finally went off in the wee hours of the morning.

It took me all of five minutes to break camp in the national forest and get on the road to the backcountry permitting office. It was freezing cold at the bus stop outside of the office, but I decided against carrying the extra weight of a jacket, knowing that it would be warm in the canyon. As I waited for the bus to Yaki Point, the head of the South Kaibab trail, I struck up a conversation with a group from Seattle that had driven down to hike the canyon. There were four of them, all in their thirties. One of the guys, with a dark curly Mohawk and olive complexion, was especially friendly. We talked about traveling all the way to the trail head, where I left him, his wife, and their friends to start down the trail.

Honestly, the South Kaibab Trail was fairly uneventful. From the rim, I descended dozens of steep switchbacks, losing a thousand feet of elevation in just minutes. The Grand Canyon is rather unusual in that it is really a canyon within a canyon. Rather than being the steep continual descent that I had sometimes imagined, the trail actually levels out for significant portions of the hike.

After descending the initial rim, I hiked along the Tonto plateau for several miles, slowly going lower as the air around me began to get hotter. From the plateau on, there is virtually no shade, so I hiked very fast to avoid the midday heat, a feat which is virtually impossible because the climate gets continually warmer as you descend, with the temperature at the Colorado River being about 20-30 degrees hotter than the temperature at the south rim.

After only two hours of hiking, I began the final steep descent from a lower plateau, down the side of the inner canyon, to the mighty Colorado River. At the edge of the Colorado, the trail disappears into a cave, about 40 feet deep. The other side of the cave ends at a shear drop off, where Blacks Bridge, a ridged suspension bridge, carries you the couple hundred feet over the Colorado.

The trail was long and hot, but surprisingly not difficult, and I found as I finally saw the campground, less than three hours after I began the hike, that I was not especially tired. I passed many people who were also heading down, some of whom seemed to be struggling, and some of whom were fine, and I somehow managed to be the first camper at the camp ground, having started nearly an hour later than some of the other hikers that I passed.

To Be Continued…

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It is hard to believe that I am finally here! Tomorrow morning around 6:00 I will begin my descent into the Grand Canyon, the hike that has been the center point around which my entire trip has revolved. It is an intense feeling. I saw the Canyon for the first time today, and it is definitely a big hole. I am kinda scared to think about carrying all of the junk in my pack from the bottom to the top of this thing. My one consolation is that the majority of my weight is food and water, which will get lighter as my hike nears the final day (and hardest climb).

In order of difficulty, the steepest hikes that I have ever done are:

1. Baxter Creek Trail in the Great Smokey Mountains (4,000 ft. gain over 6 miles, 3 day trip).
2. Mt. Rainier National Park (3,500 ft gain over 5 miles).
3. Payne’s Lake near Etna California (~3,000 ft. over 6 miles)
4. Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park (1,500 ft over 2.5 miles).
5. Ostrander Lake in Yosemite National Park (cant remember but it was steep).

I will be interested to see how the Grand Canyon fits into this rubric, considering that the mileage will be split up over a few days, but the heat will be a new factor.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Does this mean I am anorexic?

Typically when someone hikes 12 miles on just a can of spaghetti, it is a sign of an eating disorder, but I think I am in the clear because it was not by choice.

I began my morning with a brisk 3 mile hike through the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, ornately carved pillars of stone, created by erosion, which decorate the walls of the Amphitheatre, as this part of the canyon is known. After hiking to the bottom of the canyon and back up, I was on my way to Zion national park.

Now Zion is a beautiful park, and one of its claims to fame is that it is the 2nd most popular spot for big wall climbing in the US, after Yosemite National Park. I could easily see why as I stood at the edge of the canyon overlook, another 2 mile hike round trip.

From the canyon rim, I took a long scenic drive to the visitors center which involved passing through a mile of tunnel, and descending half a dozen steep switch backs. Upon arriving at the visitors’ center, I found an elderly lady who had fallen backwards in her wheel chair. Because of her neuropathy and pain meds I was unable to clear her spine, so I just stood their while others helped keep her comfortable until the EMTs arrived.

From there I hopped onto a free shuttle and made my way to the river walk, a 2 mile round trip hike through a narrow canyon which housed a rare, desert swamp. The water seeping from the sandstone walls of the canyon combined with the water from the Virgin River helped to form this rare ecosystem which included cattails, algae, frogs, and wild grapes. At the end of the hike, the canyon continues into an area known as the narrows, where you can hike up the river for quite a ways. I stopped after 100 yards.

From the canyon, I took a bus ride to Angels’ Landing, a 5 mile hike which ascends almost 1500 feet from the valley floor to the peak of Angels’ Landing. This is one of the greatest hikes that I have ever done, as I am sure you can see from the pictures. For someone who is scared of heights, climbing those chains was quite a challenge.

When I finally arrived at the top of the stone tower, I was struck by the beauty that surrounded me. G-d created all of this and he also saw fit to make me. I started to think about my worries about fund raising, which have still not gone away, but then my thoughts shifted. I started to think about all of the awesome experiences that the L-rd has given me. I thought about all the people he has placed in my life, and all of the opportunities that he has given me. Why would G-d bless his child so much and then not provide for him? He wouldn’t is the answer.

On my way back to the visitors’ center, I made one last stop for a quick 1 mile hike to Emerald Pond. After that I finally made it back to the visitors’ center, where I devoured two well deserved cups of shells and cheese, and a small can of baked beans. My mileage for the day totaled 12 miles when you subtract out the times that I rounded up the distance of a given hike.