Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Unusual Creatures, by Michael Hearst

Subtitle:  A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth's Strangest Animals.

Illustrator:  Jelmer Noordeman 

I really enjoyed this.  Of course, I love interesting tidbits about animals, so I'm bound to enjoy a book like this, with its collection of strange and interesting creatures.

It's physically big, so the illustrations are big too, with each two-page spread artfully using only 1-2 colors.  Very nice.  I also appreciated the distribution maps. 

The info is interesting, with each animal having a very short (VERY short) sum-up and then strange facts, true/false questions, or even little poems.  The writing style is breezy.  The selection of animals is good—though most are familiar from other similar books.

I did wish there were a little more detail on each animal, but if you go in expecting just a quick survey, you'll really like it.  

More accurate rating:  4.5 stars

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Watson Lake Loop

This is Watson Lake, in Prescott, Arizona.  Beautiful and surreal.  I hiked the trail around the lake (and a detour into the Flume Canyon area).  It was fantastic.  I started at the lookout and went toward the dam.


The trail soon veers away from the lake into a rocky wonderland that looks like some strange Star Trek planet:

Fun trail sign:

Here's where you can detour into the Flume Canyon trail system.

It's worth it because:

These pictures were taken at the end of October, by the way.  It was a perfect time to go.  A little warm hiking in the middle of the day, but overall very pleasant temperatures.  And some autumn leaves!

Here the trail reminded me a little of the "rock towns" of the Czech Republic:

Secret Cove (worth the detour):  

Beautiful heron:

It was a great trail.  If you just take the loop with no detours, it's just under 5 miles.  I would class it as moderately difficult.  There are some places you need to really pay attention to the trailfinding.  Some of the trail sections are just white dots on rocks that you need to scramble up.  It's super fun.  Speaking of rocks--there are lots of them.  Not always so easy on the knees.  The total elevation gain isn't a lot, but there are a lot of tiny ups and downs that add up over the course of the trail.  If you include a lot of detours, like I did, expect more like 6-7 miles.

This just might be one of my favorite trails.  The only downside is the last bit is rather long and straight and not as interesting.  But there are lots of water birds to watch as you make the long slog.   

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt

This is one of those strange books that's mostly realistic and believable and set in our world…but there's one fantastical element.  Usually I find these types of books a little hard to orient myself in.  It's harder to suspense my disbelief than if I were reading high fantasy with dragons or space opera with faster-than-light travel.  But I enjoyed this book enough that I just kind of went with it.

So, for the fantastical element: [SEMI SPOILERS]  Marcelllus the giant Pacific octopus.  Don't get me wrong:  I LOVED him.  I loved his role in the plot.  He was probably my favorite character.  But he was so fantastical that you're going to have to make a decision as a reader:  just sort of roll with it…or beat your head against the wall because how on earth could an octopus learn to READ ENGLISH???  I believe octopuses are highly intelligent, in a way we might not fully comprehend, considering their vastly different "brain" structure.  I could even maybe swallow his very sophisticated narrative if I thought of it as octopus language, not English.  But for him to learn to READ English, where the only possible instruction he's had is listening to people read his placard and other aquarium signs out loud?  And for him to have a vast vocabulary (in English, because he talks about English idioms) that he had to have learned entirely from the aquarium-goers?  It's the most glaringly unrealistic thing about him, but there are others.  However, if you can just roll with it, you'll love Marcellus and feel so sad for him being stuck in that little aquarium and love his relationship with Tova and look forward to his chapters.  So, my advice:   just roll with it.  I obviously did, never getting stuck on the fact that he could READ ENGLISH.

There were some other pretty fantastical coincidences, but I won't spoil them. 

I liked the human characters, even the highly flawed ones.

The writing was good.  Some might consider the pacing a tad slow, but for me it was slow in that pleasant, spending-time-with-people-I-love way.  I enjoyed the plot, though at one point, [SEMI SPOILERS!] when an important something was obvious to us and to the octopus, I didn't quite understand how it didn't occur to other intelligent characters as even a possibility.  They had enough evidence and were obviously thinking about the situation a lot.   

Again, I LOVED the relationship between Tova and Marcellus.  And though I would have liked their ending to be different, I thought it was beautiful.  SPOILER!!!  SPOILER!!!  I only wished she had acted sooner, when she realized how intelligent he was.  END SPOILERS.

Overall, a really enjoyable book.  I spent a lot of time in this review stuck on the unrealistic parts, but they really didn't affect my enjoyment as much as you might think.  And if you can just go with it, you'll really enjoy it too. 

And the cover...lovely.  

Rating:  4 stars.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Witches of Brooklyn, by Sophie Escabasse

I always say in these graphic novel reviews that I'm not the biggest fan of graphic novels, so you should take my review with a grain of salt, but then I keep liking the graphic novels I read.  So…maybe I'm somewhat of a fan.

Witches of Brooklyn was a charming read.  The concept and characters were interesting.  The relationships were fun to watch grow.  The plot was unusual.  The pacing was good.  The drawings were great.  Some of the dialogue was quite witty.

When I got to the end, I actually put the next book on hold at the library. 

I would definitely recommend this, even to people like me who aren't huge fans (just tiny fans) of graphic novels. 

More accurate rating:  4.5

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

NaNoWriMo Woes

I have not been a very good blog poster this month, mostly because...NaNoWriMo.  It's National Novel Writing Month.  Just finished this evening.  I was a "rebel" this time, revising instead of writing, but I finished my goal.  Yay.  My project this month was a fantasy novel I love, but which I realized had too much narration (and was too long), so I've been working to remedy those two problems--the solutions of which are absolutely at cross purposes.  It's taken a lot of tricky juggling, weaving, and rewriting.   

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Mogollon Rim Wildlife

Osprey, looking at me:

Antelope squirrel, looking at me:

Elk, looking at me:

Photos all taken in summer, in the Rim Lakes area (Willow Springs Lake and Woods Canyon Lake)

Friday, October 21, 2022

Around the World in 80 Plants, by Jonathan Drori

I really enjoyed Around the World in 80 Plants.  I like books structured like this, where each item (plants, in this case) gets a short but interesting treatment, one you can read in just a couple of minutes.  I also like how it was structured as a trip around the world.  Very engaging. 

It was slightly disappointing (and culturally/politically/ecologically/economically enlightening) that so many of the plants featured for a certain country or area were actually invasive species or not-terribly- invasive transplants from other places.

Each section had a good mix of physical description, botanical oddities, and cultural significance.

The writing was good. 

The illustrations were beautiful, but often I found myself wishing for photographs of the most interesting and unfamiliar plants. 

Overall, a great book, recommended for an interested layperson. 

Warning:  the print in the hardback version is quite small. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

My Jasper June, by Laurel Snyder

This was a beautiful book—often sad but also hopeful, sometimes profound.  I loved the characters, the writing, the plot.

Some scenes were drawn out just a tad too long, and I think some young readers might think it slow in those parts, but I really enjoyed it.

[SPOILER ALERT]  I’m not sure how realistic the ending was, and the honest part of me almost wished it had gone a little more with the hard realities of these situations, but the optimistic part of me loved the ending. [END SPOILER]

I will read more by Laurel Snyder. 

4.5 star

Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Darkness Outside Us, by Eliot Schrefer

I really enjoyed The Darkness Outside Us.

Minor issues out of the way first:

At times the romance felt a little forced (or maybe just hormonal teenagery), like “We’re in this major emergency, but…you know…I just want to kiss him,” and not in a “Our whole lives are an emergency, might as well enjoy our last moments” way, but more like a “We need to hurry and get this air lock open or we’ll miss harvesting that asteroid and might run out of oxygen in a few weeks, but let me pause to admire his lips” sort of way.  Just a minor thing that won’t bother many readers.

I also found several instances of what seemed to me to be plot holes or characters acting out of character…but they didn’t seriously affect my enjoyment.   

Minor issues over.

I LOVED the premise.  I LOVED the gray AI.  I LOVED the structure and tension and twists of the second half, and I kept wondering how on earth these characters were going to fix the situation.  Really well done.  The writing was good.  I liked the characters.

I would definitely read more by Eliot Schrefer.

A strong 4.5 stars. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Wild Horses on the Mogollon Rim

 Okay, so these aren't really "wild horses."  My dad calls them "feral free-ranging domestic livestock."  Most were domestic horses at one time that were dumped by people who couldn't take care of them, escaped on their own, or were set free during forest fires because the owners didn't have time/resources to move them out of danger but didn't want to keep them trapped in case the fire came.  Now many are the descendants of those once-domestic horses.  All they've known is freedom.

There's a lot of controversy over them.  Are they pests causing problems for ranchers and native wildlife?  Should there even BE ranchers on public lands?  Do the horses need to be culled or captured and taken to refuges? If so, how can we do this most humanely?  Or are they now part of the local ecosystem and need to be protected like any other wildlife? 

Mostly what I know is that they're beautiful and a treat to see.  

These three later wandered into our campsite, bold as anything, and we got to watch them for a long time while we ate.  Mogollon Rim Dinner Theatre.


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Escape to the High Country

 A couple of weeks ago I escaped the heat and want to the Mogollon Rim.  It was great (though very muddy after all this fantastic rain we've been having).

Day one:

Under the Rim, by the Horton Creek trailhead:

Rather large mushrooms:

Another fantastic dragonfly (see my post a few days ago with the flame skimmer).  I think this is a twelve-spotted skimmer:

Dramatic clouds at our dispersed camping campsite:

Rain off the Rim at sunset:

Friday, September 9, 2022

Strange Sunset

Though I caught this bizarre effect with my camera, it was even more spectacular in person:

Note:  there is absolutely no photo manipulation involved.  

Monday, September 5, 2022

Beautiful Dragonfly

Here's a beautiful dragonfly that poised for me near Williams, Arizona.  I think it's a flame skimmer (isn't that a fantastic name?)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

River Otters at Bearizona

 Okay, so this isn't wildlife.  I saw these adorable guys at Bearizona, in Williams, Arizona.  But I just had to post:

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman

This was a sad but lovely middle-grade novel about sisterhood and friendship and poverty and hope. 

I found a few things unrealistic, and the whole setup with the book being written by a character in the book to a character in the book was a little clunky at times, but overall the writing was good.

The setting and situations were interesting and eye-opening—especially about the trash collecting.  The main characters were lovable. 

I would read more by Padma Venkatraman. 

Warning:  abuse and death.  Parents might want to read along with kids. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Any Sign of Life, by Rae Carson

I LOVED the first part of this book.  Waking up to a world where everyone is dead.  Post-apocalyptic survival.  So many things prompting me to ask, "What would I do?" 

SPOILER ALERT:  Then we found out the reason for the apocalypse and I was a little disappointed that it wasn't just going to be a man-against-nature survival story.  But…I ended up liking the second part too.  END SPOILERS

The writing was good, the stakes high, the pacing fast, the characters interesting.  Things just kept going wrong.  Great storytelling from a great writer.

I've only read one other book by Rae Carson, but I also liked it a lot.  I'll have to read more.

More accurate rating:  4.5.  But a high 4.5 

Monday, August 1, 2022

World of Wonders, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

I really enjoyed this.  The fascinating animal facts are woven in beautifully with the autobiographical essays.  Some parts get a little too poetic for my personal tastes, but some people will especially love those parts.

Many of the chapters were originally written as standalone essays, so there's a bit of choppiness regarding the differing styles, the timeline of her life, etc., and a bit of repetitiveness here and there, but it worked for me.  A few of the connections between the natural world and the author's life felt like a bit of a stretch, but I enjoyed the book so much I just went with it.      

The drawings are beautiful.

Overall, a delightful surprise that I found on the library shelf, knowing nothing about the book or the author.  I'm glad I picked it up.

More accurate rating:  4.5 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Cool Moth

 I came out of my motel room in Williams, Arizona and saw this beauty hanging on my tire.  At first I thought it was a big leafy stick stuck right into the tire, and hoped the tire wouldn't go flat.  Then I realized what it was:

Look how much well it camouflages itself as a leaf:

After I rescued it, I found a tree to put it in.  Unfortunately the bark wasn't the right color, but imagine if it were:

Nature is amazing.


Monday, July 18, 2022

Creamed Brains and Kidney Stew

 This is enough to make a meat hypocrite like me turn vegetarian:

But I admire people who used every part of the animal, who never wasted anything, unlike most of us now.  

From the Household Searchlight Recipe Book in the visitor center in Williams, Arizona

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

The pictures says it all:

This was the day after my rim to river to rim hike in April (Down South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch, up Bright Angel).  DO NOT TRY THIS IN ONE DAY IN SUMMER OR WITHOUT PROPER TRAINING!!!  But you can enjoy the views over the rim at any time of year.  For more details on the hike, see this post:

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Lightning scar on a Ponderosa Pine

This is one of the best lightning scars I've been able to photograph.  It went round and round the trunk. 

This Ponderosa Pine still seems healthy. What a survivor.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Hate That Cat, by Sharon Creech

This sequel to Love that Dog was full of charm and beauty and accessible poetry, and though I don't think it was quite as great as the first book—mainly because no sequel can be as fresh and original as the first—I still really enjoyed it.  Bravo to the author.

This time I knew that the poems written about were in the back, and I read them along with the book, each at the appropriate time, and it really deepened my appreciation.

Highly recommended for reluctant poetry readers, aspiring writers, cat lovers…and pretty much everyone else.    

More accurate rating:  4.5

Rating of cover:  2

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

This was an engaging book, with a fearless, can-do main character, an interesting setting (and time period), and an unusual plot.  I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Some parts struck me as quite unrealistic, especially toward the end, especially with the [SEMI SPOILER ALERT] plan that involved collecting money from various people.  Several aspects of this plan seemed contrary to what would really happen and contrary to what certain characters would do.  But if you can just go with it, you'll enjoy it. 

The stories from Mia's family and from the various immigrants they meet are heart-breaking and eye-opening.  The letters Mia writes and their outcomes are fun to read about.  The relationships are interesting. 

Overall a very enjoyable book. Don't skip the author's note in the back.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

 More highlights from my 2021 reading list (very late, I know):

This is a very good book.  It's funny (as you'd expect from Douglas Adams) and terribly saddening (as you'd expect from a book about endangered animals), and somehow those two things work together. 

The biology and ecology are interesting.

I did think it started off a bit on the wrong foot.  It felt less like an animal book and more like a travelogue which mostly consisted of complaining about the host country and pretty much everything else.  This was done in a witty way, of course, but it felt a little uncomfortable.  And when they met the first animal…it was over in about three lines.  I thought, "Come on, Douglas Adams, you're better than this."  And he was.  The book got better and better as it progressed.  I didn't want it to end.  There was a still too much complaining travelogue, but the author/s tied it in better to the complicated web of perils/benefits surrounding ecotourism.  And there was a lot more about the actual animals and the quest to find them.

Overall, sobering and entertaining at the same time—quite a feat of writing.

More accurate rating:  4.5 stars      

Friday, June 17, 2022

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

I'm so behind in my book reviews.  Here's another book I enjoyed from 2021:  The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

I thought this was really good.

It got a lot darker than I expected, regarding the family crisis only alluded to on the book jacket, but it's an important topic and I think it was handled very well.  Not glossed over.  Not over-simplified.  The emotions were real and not always flattering.  The ending wasn't perfect, with everything fixed.  But at the same time it was hopeful and full of love. 

I liked the wishes-gone-wrong premise, though I would have enjoyed it even more if  things could have gone a wee bit more wrong. 

The writing was engaging.

I loved learning about Irish dancing.

Overall, a very good book.  I'll read more by Kate Messner. 

More accurate rating:  4.5 stars

WARNING:  SPOILER ALERT!!!  SPOILER ALERT!!!  Triggers:  drug use / opioid addiction.  I think it's presented very well, but parents may want to be aware and/or open up a discussion on the topic.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Bright Angel Trail from the South Kaibab Trail

 Here's a bit of perspective (or maybe not...the vastness of the Canyon makes it difficult to see how big/far things really are).  I took this picture from Cedar Ridge on the South Kaibab Trail.  The part I circled is a bit of green that is part of the Bright Angel Trail (above Devil's Corkscrew, I believe).  It was a little daunting at 6:00 in the morning to realize that the green spot I could barely see was where I would be walking back up five hours later.  Daunting...and exciting.  :)

GREAT day on the trail.  

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HIKE TO THE RIVER AND BACK IN ONE DAY unless you've been training specifically for this hike, have plenty of food and water, have a good plan, and are doing it in spring or fall.  Heat kills (and makes it VERY unpleasant if it doesn't kill). See this post for details:

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sunrise on the South Kaibab Trail

You can't see me very well, but here's me at sunrise at the beginning of my Grand Canyon trek (down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel).

What fantastic views!

See this post for details (and warnings).  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HIKE TO THE RIVER AND BACK IN ONE DAY unless you're highly prepared and understand what you're getting yourself into.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Grand Canyon warnings

 Here's one of the signs they put near the beginning of trails down into the Grand Canyon:

Nice visual, isn't it?

Take it seriously if you haven't prepared and don't have a good plan.

If you HAVE prepared and have a good plan (and are leaving at dawn, as you can see from the coloring of the pictures), have a fantastic time!


Saturday, April 30, 2022

Hiking the Grand Canyon--Rim to River to Rim

WARNING:  As the park service and all the books say, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HIKE TO THE RIVER AND BACK IN ONE DAY.


You've researched and planned well and trained for months.  See my specific advice below.

For me, it was fantastic.  

April 27, 2022

5:15 AM start at the South Kaibab trailhead  Didn't actually need my headlamp, but had it with me, prepared. 

Enjoying sunrise from Ooh-Ah Point and downward:

360-degree views and ridge trails?  Yes, please.  

The sun begins to burn away the chilly morning at Skeleton Point, where most books are like "Turn around now!!! Turn around now!!!"  

But beyond Skeleton Point, you get glimpses of the river 

And this cool trail:

And the Tip-Off (or as I like to call it, the Point of No Return), where the trail begins the final descent to the river, and where you might as well keep going because returning the way you came with no good water source is a daunting prospect.

  You pass an...unfinished construction zone???

And finally...the river.  Here you can choose to go left and skirt the river to meet up with the Bright Angel Trail or you can go right, cross the river, and explore the Boat Beach, Bright Angel Campground, and Phantom Ranch.  I went right.  

8:49 AM:  First lunch, sitting on a rock in Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the canyon (yes, this is normally more like breakfast time for me, but I'd earned it):  

Trying to beat the heat, I only spent about an hour at the bottom, then headed up the Bright Angel Trail and met this incredible sight:  a man in a wheelchair and his crew, headed toward Indian Garden.  Okay, this trail is a challenge for a fit hiker, so imagine it in a wheelchair. The man was Geoff Babb of AdvenChair, and I later got to talk to him in Mather Campground--camped in the same loop as we were.  He'd tried this in another upgraded wheelchair a couple of years ago, and it broke 2 miles in.  So he and his team designed the all terrain AdvenChair.  He and his dedicated crew successfully completed the trek in four days, breaking up the 9- or 10-hour days at Indian Garden and Bright Angel campgrounds.  Amazing!  If you want to read more, check out the AdvenChair website and an article about this hike:

Soon I got to River Rest House and verdant Pipe Creek with lots of water to cool off in and shady bits to rest in.  I hadn't imagined the canyon would have so much water and greenery.  Everything about this is amazing me.  

 Onward and upward (1000 feet up on the exposed switchbacks of the Devil's Corkscrew, to be precise).  Resting near the top, I met my second mule train.

So...this is the Grand Canyon?  Way less deserty than I'd imagined.  

The oasis of Indian Garden, where I talked to people at the watering hole, played in the creek again, had second lunch, and discovered the Indian Garden lending library!  This is the beautiful campground where I'd love to stay one day:

The section of trail from Indian Garden to 3-Mile Rest House (and partway to 1 1/2-mile Rest House) was actually the sunniest and hottest for me, so next time I think I'll wait at Indian Garden until the cliffs shade the trail.  But the full sun provided some nice, unshadowed views:

In the last 4.6 miles from Indian Garden, you gain more than 3000 feet.  When you do this after you've already been hiking for 12 miles, it is indeed a bit of a task.  I slowed down a lot.  But I was still enjoying it:

Only 1.5 miles from the top, I started feeling a bit nauseated, so I slowed down even more and took breaks literally every 10-15 minutes, sipping Pedialyte and nibbling Fritos, until I felt better.  I then met some Aussie friends from lower on the trail and we walked together, chatting about our travel and our favorite mountain climbing documentaries, and before I knew it, we were at the top!

It took me about 11.5 hours from start to finish.  It's no record, but then again, I wasn't going for a record.  I was going for the experience and the enjoyment.  And on those two counts, my victory was complete.  Fantastic experience.    

If you're thinking about doing it yourself, here's my advice.  

Go DOWN the South Kaibab and UP the Bright Angel.  

But don't try this in one day unless...

1) You're in good hiking shape.

2) You go in spring or fall while it's not too hot.  Remember that it's about 20 degrees hotter at the river than it is at the South Rim, and large sections of the trail have little to no shade. DO NOT ATTEMPT this entire hike in one day in full summer, now matter how tough you think you are.  I consider "full summer" in the inner canyon to be roughly late May to late September, depending on the year.  If you think you don't need to worry about the heat because it's "a dry heat," be sure to spend plenty of time hiking in this dry heat before you discount it. 

3) You've trained over the previous few months for this specific hike by taking:

     -a few long hikes (12-16 miles) while wearing the fully loaded pack you plan to use

     -several hikes that exceed 3000 feet of elevation gain, preferably a couple that exceed 4000 feet

     -at least one high-elevation hike (at least 6000 feet)

     -one or two hot hikes ("feels like" temp of 90+) to see how your body reacts

     -at least one canyoning hike (where you go downhill first and uphill second)

4)  Wear well-broken-in hiking boots/shoes.

5)  Research the trail, how to keep your energy up, and what to pack.  Going light is good, but so is going prepared.  The balance is up to you.  Absolute musts for me:  emergency water purification tablets, tiny flashlight, paper map (I photocopied the pertinent part of a good-quality topo map), and sun protection (such as sunscreen/hat/sunglasses/SPF lip balm).  Also recommended:  Band-Aids and a bit of duct tape (for blisters and various other uses), a signaling device of some sort (my pack has a whistle, but mirrors and GPS emergency beacons are other options), weather-appropriate clothes and basic survival gear if you need to spend the night (I took a light-weight emergency blanket, which can also double as a signaling device or a sun shade), small pocket knife, basic emergency medicine (like ibuprofen and antihistamines), extra socks, hiking poles, and a bandana you can wet in the creek to help against the head (and which doubles as a scarf in the morning if it's cold).   

6)  Know where the water is and whether it's turned on at the moment (ask the day before at the backcountry office.)

7)  Carry plenty of food (twice what you'd eat in a normal 12-hour period, including lots of salty snacks and carbs)

8)  Carry plenty of water (I advise 3-4 liters, which you refill every chance you get.  If for some reason there's no water at Indian Garden or the River, or if temperatures are flirting with 100 in the Inner Canyon, you'll have to take more or not attempt the hike.  If there's water at 3-Mile Rest House and 1 1/2-Mile Rest House, you might be fine with 2 liters, but that's not giving you a lot of leeway if anything goes wrong).  

9)  Take and use electrolyte drink mix (I like Pedialyte.  Other friends suggest Liquid IV or Vitalyte).  When it's hottest and hardest, alternate plain water and electrolytes in a 1:1 ratio.

10)  Start EARLY.  We're talking dawn...or earlier (though it will depend somewhat on the season)  

11)  Have someone up top or at home who knows your plan and will get help if you don't show up or make contact.  As always, it's safer to hike with a partner, but if you're prepared and want to solo it, there are enough other people on the trail that you won't really be alone.        

12)  Have fun!