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!



Friday, April 15, 2022

Cholla Flowers

The staghorn cholla were putting on a show last week at the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes--Death Valley

More from the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at Death Valley National Park in California:

Observe the shadows, the shapes, and the lone person walking along the crest:

Here are some classic rivulets of sand (I don't know the technical term).  At one point, when the wind was whipping sand up over the ridges like a nature documentary, I smoothed out a little section and watched the wind reform the beautiful ridges right before my eyes.  

Evidence of desert nightlife:

A bit more perspective (do you see the tiny people?):

Me, on one of the highest dunes--in the wind and the golden light of sunset:

One of the crests I walked up.  The next one was much steeper-sided.  If it had been a regular mountain, I would have been afraid to walk it because it was so narrow with such steep slides on both sides.  But I was like, "No's sand.  I won't fall far."  A fantastic experience.    

I highly, highly recommend this, especially at sunset (or sunrise would probably be even better).  I loved, loved, loved it. 

All pictures taken early March, 2022.  I would personally not recommend going to Death Valley past March.  It was plenty warm for me when we went.

But...I just heard of a crazy race that starts there in July.  At noon.  And goes for 135 miles.  With a cumulative gain of 14,600 feet.  Yeah.  So, if you're an extreme athlete, like to torture yourself, and aren't afraid of death...try it.  It's called Badwater 135.  If you're like me, go in February or March, do some cool hikes, and enjoy yourself.  :)