Sunday, October 25, 2009

I See the Light!

I learned a hard lesson on my Los Angeles to New York bike ride: it gets dark at night! While it doesn’t take Einstein to figure that one out, I just didn’t think I would be riding in the dark. In 2005 when I rode cross-country in the opposite direction it was the end of summer which gave me plenty of daylight until 8 o’clock or later depending on the time-zone. While it seems quite obvious, I didn’t really think that I would begin losing daylight at 4 PM.

On one evening ride in Arizona, with a light snow falling nonetheless, a police officer pulled me over and told me to get off the road. I didn’t have any lights on my bike and I was a hazard to both myself and drivers as well. It wasn’t until two states further on, in Houston to be exact, that I finally broke down and bought a rear light so I could at least be seen from behind.

I am still here to tell the tale so I got lucky, really lucky in fact. I am now older, wiser and have since learned about a company by the name of “Light and Motion”. Light and Motion makes bike lights. Not just any bike lights mind you, but cars flashing their headlights at you, planes mistaking you for the landing strip, you’d think its daytime kind of bike lights.

A saying regarding bike lights is that “you don’t want to outride your light”. “Outride your light?!?!?” Well no, I don’t have the requisite number of gears on my bike to travel 670,616,629 miles per hour, the speed of light, but the problem is that most lights just don’t shine far enough ahead to give sufficient reaction time.

I am using the Seca 400, tested at 425 lumens. The first time I turned it on I just giggled at how bright it was. And that isn’t even the top model; the Seca 900 , as its name suggests, a full 900 lumens. Life on other plants could probably see that thing. Look how bright my light is compared to the street light!

Riding in the suburbs with a smattering of street lights, even on the low setting, the 400 does a fantastic job of nullifying shadows. The light really shines though (pun intended) in total darkness. The light opens up a swath of illumination reaching far enough ahead to give me plenty of reaction time even at speeds approaching 30 MPH. Now I just need an illuminated computer.

As you can probably tell, I am pretty excited about my new light. I’ll post more after I have had a chance to really put the light though its paces…

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Training

While for my 2005 cross-country ride I did zero training before setting out, I took a different tack in 2008 and in preparation for this ride as well. I have been out on numerous rides, several over 100 miles in length to prepare myself for having to pedal with an extra 12 pounds of gear.

From New York City I have been out on the hugely popular Route 9W ride. On summer weekends there are literally hundreds of people that do this ride. The actual bike route ends shy of Bear Mountain State Park and is about 70 miles round trip from the George Washington Bridge. If one is a masochist, or just really likes hills, the ride can be stretched to Bear Mountain State Park.

I have also been spending some time riding out on Long Island. The North Fork out on the east end is rather quiet this time of year as there is not nearly the seasonal traffic that the area sees in the summer. It is harvest season at the vineyards though. The ride to Orient Point is one of my favorites as there are so few traffic lights, decent shoulders and smooth pavement. Add to that the scenery of the vines from the many wineries in the area and it is just a pleasant ride.

At this time though, my bike has been boxed up and turned over to FedEx. The airline regulations for bicycles, or anything else for that matter have become so stringent and/or costly, shipping a bike is a no brainer. The only downside is that it takes three days to arrive, which keeps me off the bike.












Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back on the Bike

It has been more than a year since I have done a bike ride of over 1,000 miles so I figure I am due. It will not be another coast to coaster, but rather a ride that will take me along a Parkway that is in and of itself a 444 mile long National Park.

The National Park known as the Natchez Trace Parkway follows a historic trail that was used as major south/north thoroughfare before the time the land belonged to the burgeoning United States of America.

While the Natchez Trace began as a series of animal and later Indian paths, it gained in popularity as the lands in Tennessee and Ohio area were being settled. Farmers in the region could grew far more crop than they could consume or sell locally, so they built flatboats and floated their goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans. As this preceded the advent of the steam engine, once the goods were offloaded from the boats they were broken down and sold as timber or kindling. Now without transportation, the farmer would walk with his pocketful of cash back home using the Natchez Trace. (Yes, many people were robbed or worse)

Famous figures such as Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr and Meriwether Lewis trod upon this very trail. While things ended poorly for Lewis, Andrew Jackson marched troops along the Trace in the War of 1812 as well as followed it southward at a later time chasing after the woman who would become his wife. The Natchez Trace was even used for a time as a postal road. Use of the Trace declined significantly once steamships were plying the river systems. It wasn’t until 1937 that construction began modernizing the parkway and in 1938 was made a National Park.

My ride though will start in Baton Rouge, Louisiana before heading north through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. From Nashville, TN, the end of the Natchez Trace Parkway, I am going to make a right turn and head to Myrtle Beach, SC to visit with my Dad. I haven’t thought about the route once I leave Nashville, but I will have to cross of the same Appalachian Mountain chain that I spent several months hiking through.

I was vaguely familiar with the Natchez Trace but initially concocted the idea of pedaling it on the Winnipeg to the Gulf kayak trip last year. The town of Natchez, MS ended up being a water stop on the kayak trip and kindled my interest in the Trace.

And it seems to be becoming the norm that my support staff, in the form of my old buddy Ken, will get me going again in Louisiana. Ken was part of my 2008 cross-country ride as well as the main transportation provider for the Canada to the Gulf of Mexico kayak trip once that trip was complete. I never really thought I would be spending this much time in Louisiana, but there we have it. Thanks, Ken!

I plan to starting pedaling on or around November 2nd , so check back for my pre-ride updates as well as my daily post each night from the road.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bryce Canyon

We awoke well before sun up in an effort to catch the sunrise in Bryce Canyon. While there are numerous locations to watch the sun poke over the horizon, some are naturally more pleasing than others. We opted for Bryce Point, which we shared with a number of bundled up, serious photographers as well as a bus of Japanese tourists. The morning was crisp.

Watching the show of light play out as the sun crept higher in the sky, casting shadows on the tall spires of rock, known as hoodoos, was an exercise in patience. Various people decided they had enough before the sun even cracked the horizon. Perhaps it was the cold, but it only made it quieter for the people that stuck it out.

Laura and I hung around until well after sunrise, only then opting to walk down the canyon among the giants. Laura put together a six-mile loop for us to walk and take in some of the more scenic sections of the northern part of the park. Not having to carry a big backpack made the walk seem almost unfair as we bobbed along the trail.

There was a fair crowd in the same section of the park, though it didn’t seem it. We did occasionally happen upon some other people and stop for a chat. It seems that this was the most walking that most people were doing on their vacation.

We stayed in the Canyon long enough to have a bit of lunch, but shortly thereafter made our way back up and out. We stopped at the visitors center on our drive out of the park to learn more about the area. The vicinity saw its firs people, the Anasazi, over 2,000 years ago, presumably brought to the area to hunt rabbits and collect pine nuts. As far as modern settlers, there was Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon, after which the Canyon was named, who homesteaded in the area.

While our time in the park seemed short, I guess it is about as much time as people generally spend there. Our afternoon involved nothing more than a drive to Salt Lake City, UT and the end of our vacation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Early Exit

So as not to have a repeat of the day prior we got up and out at an early hour, leaving camp just at the point where headlamps were no longer necessary. It was a cold night, but as has been the case when the sun made an appearance it grew warmer. Given the hiking trail and its winding nature we would catch some sun until the trail lead us back away from it, only to once again deliver us to the warming rays.

While the scenery in the valley was spectacular, once we climbed out onto a plateau, it became more so. It seems as if we were walking alongside an endless painting. The predominant color was rust from the changing leaves of the various trees in the distance, periodically interspersed with gray trunks that lost their cover. There was green from the stands of pine trees, some even blackened from a fire that had come through in 2007. Also in the center was beige and white from striated rock. There was a liberal use of blue in the sky with only enough white to break the solid color on the uppermost portion of the paining. The wind was still, leaving only the periodic chipmunk or bird to give movement.

Given the sun, the fact that we were on a well worn trail, spirits were much higher than 24 hours earlier. And despite having taken nearly 100 photos by the time we stopped for lunch, our pace was brisk.

We arrived at what was to be our campsite at 2 PM and the site was marvelous. It offered a fantastic view of that same painting that we were looking at the entire day. As it was still quite early and we had only six miles to hike out, we opted to do so. Our plan would be to drive the two hours to Bryce Canyon this evening and catch sunrise at the park there.

The final five miles of the trail was the highway of the park. It seems that the people that do get out and walk in the park take the vey route we would be exiting. The worst part of the situation was the last five miles of trail was concrete. I can only guess that the trail gets such heavy use that the Park Commission had to pour concrete on the trail to keep it from eroding. Much like not getting down into the Grand Canyon, it would be disappointing if that was the only five miles of Zion that people would see, as it is quite a diverse park with respect to composition.

Shortly before reaching the trailhead there was a turnoff for Angels Landing. While I hadn’t heard of the trail, some folks passing by mentioned that it was ranked one of the top ten hiking trails in the United States, despite being only a half mile long. The trail is fairly steep, to the point that chains have been installed for people to clutch on their way up or down. While we had plans to make it to Bryce Canyon in the evening, we didn’t want it to be at the expense of Zion.

We started up the trail and after a few minutes Laura decided that the climb wasn’t for her. Fair enough, she would defend our pack from a raiding party of chipmunks. Climbing up to Angels Landing was a fun little scamper, but as far as ranking it anywhere near the top ten hikes in Utah would be a stretch, much less the whole United States. The view offered at the top was that of Zion Canyon. Nice, but no better than the view we had the rest of the day. On the way down from Angels Landing I decided to run. It was a bit like Parkour and I did get many a strange or frightened look, but something pressed me to go for it.

Once reunited with our car we stopped in the town of Springdale, UT just outside the park. We figured we earned ourselves a sit-down dinner. We didn’t linger though as it was getting dark. We had to drive through the park again to take the east exit and we hoped to catch a bit of the sunset in doing so.

On the drive to Bryce Canyon National Park I concentrated on the road and Laura did some research as to what our game plan should be for the morning. There were numerous hotels just outside the park, much like in Zion, but we opted to pitch our tent in the park, leaving us closer to the action in the morning.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Into the Valley

We had descended into Hop Valley and had to follow it along until we caught a connecting trail taking us back up and out to a plateau. While in theory it sounds simple, it didn’t work exactly as planned, as least not right away.

Following my efforts to stay hydrated in the morning I told Laura I was going to step off the trail to answer the call of nature and she should go ahead. I soon walked on, trailing Laura or so I thought. I thought it a bit odd after not seeing her for a half an hour, but figured she was just making good time and would wait for me as she saw fit. While I had thoughts the she may have taken a wrong turn, it wasn’t until 15 minutes later that I was suspect. There was a set of footprints on the trail that looked as if they came from her, but I couldn’t be certain. I called her name and heard no response…repeatedly. I continued on, thinking that perhaps she couldn’t hear me over the wind. I had no reason to think she was anywhere other than on the trail ahead of me.

It wasn’t until I reached a cow fence that I had serious doubts that she was in front of me. I figured at the very least she would probably wait for me there. While it was what I thought, I was not 100% certain. There was a road crossing another one and half miles further up the trail and I knew she wouldn’t go beyond that. I needed that 100% certainty so I knew where to focus my search for her, namely behind me. I hung my pack visibly on the fence hoping no chipmunks or a cow would tuck into it and I ran. I ran to the road without any sign of her and quickly ran back. On my way back I was really hoping she would be standing at the fence right next to my backpack; no such luck.

As I was loaded up with water, I dropped a few water bottles so that I could pick up my pace and keep what was in my pack in the event I would need it. I began backtracking from whence I came and was going to keep going until I got to the point I last saw her. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go quite that far as Laura materialized on the trail a mile back. She ended up following a cow path off the main trail and then forked out from there, which is when I had passed her. The ending to this could have been much worse, but we took it as a learning experience, providing us with the opportunity to set backcountry rules and discuss what to do in the event we become separated. Also not the worst thing in the world was that we hadn’t yet covered three trail miles and it was noon.

We continued together along the valley floor, having on at least a half dozen occasions to cross La Verkin creek. The creek wasn’t terribly deep, so it was a non event really. The worst part was getting the stink eye from the cows as we walked past.

When again reaching the cow fence I collected the water I left behind. I had noticed earlier that a cow had been out, but at the time I had other things on my mind than getting her back in her valley-wide pen. Laura and I tried in vain to sheppard the cow back through the small gate, but the cow was having none of it. The cow was on its own.

By the time we reached the road crossing we paused for a bit of lunch to collect ourselves. It was still overcast though the outlook was more promising than the day.

The afternoon took us up and down through varying terrain. At one point when we stopped and looked up, a Condor was circling high above on the thermals. At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon we caught a talk about the recovery of the Condor. Numbers were as low as 22 in the 1980’s. At present there are around 325, with just more of half of those in the wild.

Later in the day we inadvertently followed another animal path off the main trail. At least we were together. There were numerous animal trails that intersected in the area and finding the actual trail involved climbing to a perch and evaluating the terrain as compared to that of our topographic map. I could tell generally where the trail should be, so we headed off in that direction. It turned out that the trail was not as well worn as several of the animal trails in the area.

The trail climbed to 7,000 feet in elevation, leaving us with an expansive view of Wildcat Canyon, where we would hike the following day. Despite our mishaps we made our initial destination of Wildcat Spring before dark. There was little in the way of level ground as we were walking the edge of a canyon, but there was a spot that had obviously been cleared to camp. It wasn’t perfect, but it would be home for the night. In the time we sat, prepared and ate dinner, a collection of stars began poking their way out from behind the clouds. The disappearance of the clouds would leave us with a cold, calm night.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On to Zion

It was another early morning for us as we were hoping to be in the front of the line for backcountry permits in Zion National Park. We had assembled our gear and loaded our packs the night prior, assuming that we might obtain a three night permit for the park. Our preparation paid off as we were able to secure a permit allowing us to hike from the Northwest corner of the park to the Southeast over four days.

The only wrinkle in our plan was getting to the trailhead where we would begin our hike. It would have been out of our way getting a ride back there after our hike, so we were hoping to find a ride to the northern part of the park and hike back to the car. With several phone calls, an incredible bit of luck and a friendly outfitter, we were on our way in under an hour.

The drive north was only an hour and a half in comparison to the five hours of driving around the Grand Canyon. The weather was in stark contrast to what it was in the Canyon as well. The sky was overcast with a chill wind blowing liberally and there was the expectation of rain. The mercury was forecast to dip below the freezing point overnight.

The landscape varied too in comparison to that Canyon I keep referencing. Quaking Aspens were putting on a foliage show in yellow. While there was little wildlife (or people) to speak of, we were kept entranced by the colors that rustled in response to the effects of the wind. The background rocks were a color in the shade of salmon.

As we knew our hiking time would be limited on our first day due to the time involved obtaining the permit and getting to the trail, we left ourselves with an easy day. We did however have enough time to duck down a side trail to Kolob Arch, claimed to be the longest free-standing arch in the world. It was not as visually spectacular as some you might see in Arches National Park, but it was impressive nonetheless.

We had passed many splendid looking campsites throughout the afternoon, but where we had registered to camp left much to be desired, not least of which it was exposed to the wind and the elements. I checked two campsites that I knew to be nearby. Though unoccupied, they were no better. We took it upon ourselves to find a slight better campsite, giving us at least some shelter on the leeward side of several large shrubs.

There would be no stars for us to see on this evening, but the rain did hold off, so I wasn’t about to complain. There are few things worse than hiking in a cold rain.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day in Transit

Laura and I had little planned for the day other than to get back to our car at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We were able to take our time in the morning as the shuttle north wouldn’t depart until early afternoon. We opted to take a park bus to the east side of the South Rim and wander the several miles back to where we would be meeting our ride.

Previously, my definition for “so close, yet so far” was from my 2008 bike ride from Los Angeles to New York. I had ridden clear across the country finding myself in Hoboken, NJ, immediately across the river from Battery Park in Manhattan, what would be my official end point. Battery Park was but a scant mile away across the river. I however had to pedal to the northern end of Manhattan, cross the Hudson River via the George Washington Bridge, only to ride back downtown, adding a total of 25 miles to the ride from Hoboken. One verses 25. By road the North and South rims of the Grand Canyon were approximately 215 miles, as the crow flies: eight. Eight miles to the north rim from where we stood. The ratio is nearly the same, but the Canyon is the winner by a nose. I could even see the North Rim Lodge for crying out loud! And no, there was no helicopter service that connects the two. We were resigned to our fate of sitting in a van for five hours, effectively robbing us of the day. On the upside though, there was some interesting landscape along the way and we met some nice folks on the ride.

Upon arriving at the car we immediately drove north to a town just outside of Zion National Park and had the pleasure of spending the night in a warm hotel bed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Up and Out

As we were uncertain to what we would face on the climb back out of the Grand Canyon, our last morning was an early one, setting out under the beam of a headlamp. Much to our surprise it took no longer to get up to Monument Creek as it did to get down, so it was a good start. We would again have to load up on water to get us to two miles shy of the south rim.

The morning was a pleasant walk through desert terrain. We stumbled upon one other couple hiking their way out, but absent them, we saw no other people.

As one might expect, the day was taking us mostly uphill. This included a stretch called the "Cathedral Stairs". The climb was an elevation gain of 1,200 feet, but we didn’t find it particularly difficult. At the top we paused to say Hello to the first group of hikers we saw heading down into the canyon. Laura was a rock star climbing the Cathedral Stairs and even managed to spot the lone rattlesnake we would see on the hike.

As the day wore on we passed several other groups hiking into the canyon. We knew we were nearing the exit once we began seeing the odd day hiker making their way down. There was also a steady drone of aircraft engines, flying tourists high above the gaping Canyon.

The final push up the last section of the Hermit Trail was not an easy one. The climb was relentless in the ever warming sun and after having been hiking all day nonetheless. To add to the mix there was a series of landslides that decimated the trail, leaving us to scramble over boulder piles. Click on the photo below to check out the trail.

My biggest thought later in the day was the possibility of catching a ride from the South Rim 215 miles back to our car at the North Rim trailhead. There was a company that once a day, for a tidy sum, would shuttle people between the two points. We made a reservation for the following day, but if we were able to hike out and catch the shuttle that day, it would be like winning a free day of vacation. It wasn’t meant to be though and in retrospect, was just fine. It gave us an opportunity to take in the crowded South Rim of the Canyon and its superior vistas. Not only that, but we were able to do laundry, preparing us for our next hiking adventure in Zion National Park, two days hence.

The Grand Canyon is well deserving of its name. It is in fact “Grand” in every sense of the word. I was just glad to have had the opportunity to see it. It has been one of those places that people would comment, “you, of all people haven’t been to the Grand Canyon”. I can’t go everywhere, but at least now I have been to the Grand Canyon. The thought I was left with as we departed the south rim was that it is a shame only a fraction of people that visit the Canyon ever get down inside and see it from the bottom up.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Camping on the Colorado

Right off the bat in the morning Laura and I were greeted by a Mule Deer nearly immediately after setting out for our hike. Not long thereafter we also found a pair of deer antlers that had been shed and were bleached white by the beating sun. While the deer were the only large animals we had encountered, there are numerous coyotes and mountain lion that reside in the park. Also, constantly scurrying underfoot were small lizards. The lizards would dart out and then under shelter as we walked past.

As soon as we were out of the shade of the canyon walls the day warmed quickly. There was no respite from the sun whatsoever. I couldn’t imagine hiking down in the Canyon in July or August. It must be brutally hot.

As we hiked, the landscape took on a yellowish hue. It was mostly due to the area of Tapeats Sandstone that we were hiking through. One of the remarkable things about the Grand Canyon is that the striations in the rock are so plainly visible. There are about a dozen distinct layers visible in the canyon, all added throughout time. While now a plateau, there was a point where the entire area was a shallow sea.

It is not only the color of the rock that is an indicator of layering, but also the way the rock erodes. Softer layers of rock crumble in smaller pieces and as such leave rubble piles that are angular. The harder layers of rock, which generally had the softer rock underneath erode, will sheer off leaving an almost vertical section. Having these numerous layers is what to me gives the Grand Canyon much of its visual appeal.

While we did pass a small group of hikers, the area was secluded. It was the Grand Canyon we hoped to experience. And for a good part of the day we would be able to catch the periodic glance of the Colorado River down below. It would be our destination for the evening.

When we initially made the effort to secure our camping permit we hoped to stay at Monument Creek. It was mostly for logistical reasons, so that when we were to hike back out and up the Canyon, our day would be several miles shorter than if we camped down on the Colorado River. Once we saw the Monument Creek area we were elated that there were no further permits being issued, pushing us down to Granite Rapids on the Colorado River itself. While Monument Creek was geologically interesting, the area was little more than a few low trees in a dust bowl. It had none of the charm of our campsite the night before.

Leading down to the river from Monument Creek was a primitive trail at best. The trail itself was a presently dry riverbed between two canyon walls. The trail was basically anyplace in the 100 yard span between the canyon walls. There would be no getting lost as there were only two directions on this trail: up or down.

There was no actual camping area down by the river, but rather anyplace we could find a level section of sand to pitch our tent. The area was interspersed with tall rock spires and low growing cactus. We got the tent set up and had plenty of time to goof off near the river. As Granite Rapids was rumored to be one of the worst rapids on this stretch of the Colorado, I didn’t have any need to step into the river past my knees. Not only that, but the water was far colder than I would have imagined.

Once the chores around camp were complete I went about climbing on the myriad of rock spires (from which I was able to take this aerial photos of our camp) while Laura practiced Yoga on a white blanket of sand. While we hoped to have this campsite to ourselves, it wasn’t long before a white water rafting group pulled up and set up camp not far from us. The guide came over and apologized for interrupting our peaceful afternoon and offered to "buy" us a beer after his group had dinner. Rafters can carry far more weight than hikers.

Though we didn’t have the place to ourselves, it was an enjoyable location to spend the night. This was in spite of Laura’s cursed backpack falling into cactus patch (and me spending an hour picking out cactus needles) and having to take the food bag in the tent with us. We never did take up our friend on his post dinner offer; rather we gazed up at the stars and fell asleep to the sound of the Colorado rushing between the canyon walls, as it had been doing since it cut a swath beginning six million years ago.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Away From the Masses

The morning leaving camp once again put Laura and I on a main trail, but only for the a few hours. While we got a late start, we didn’t have nearly the mileage to cover as the day previous. Our first order of business was crossing over to the south side of the Colorado River via a cable bridge. We wouldn’t get to feel the water of the Colorado until later in the day as after crossing the cable bridge the trail ascended away from the rushing waters. Once the trail slowly wound its way down, we paused for our first real experience with the Colorado River, creator of the canyon through which we hiked. We left our backpacks near the trail and made our way down to feel the cold water of the river. We took our time enjoying the view and had a chat with someone that was on a white water rafting trip. It was an all too pleasant interlude in our morning. The only down side was that when we turned back to our packs, a squirrel had chewed a hole through Laura’s new pack and claimed a snack of dried fruit for its effort.

We paused at and an area called Indian Garden for lunch, the last of the major stops on the trail which we would be hiking. It was a shady oasis complete with picnic table and clean water. As we left Indian Garden we had the option of taking a side trail to a lookout. As we were making good time we opted to take a scenic detour before heading down the Tonto Trail and away from the majority of people in the Canyon. The detour took us to Plateau Point, a vista with an abrupt drop to the Colorado River several thousand feet below. The side trip added a couple of miles to our day, but the lookout was entirely worth it. We lingered for nearly an hour before backtracking and turning off on the Tonto Trail. This area of the canyon receives significantly less use than where we had been and we also knew that where we would be camping for the night would leave us entirely by ourselves, having scooped up the single permit issued for the camp area. This made up for the fact that there was no water in the vicinity, leaving us to carry all we would need until the following evening from Indian Garden.

We had just enough time to set up camp, do a little exploring in the area and eat dinner before the sun ducked behind the canyon wall. Shortly after the sun made an exit, Jupiter as well as thousands of stars filled the sky in place of the sun. With so little light pollution in the area the display was one of the best I had seen since Waitomo, New Zealand. Laura and I laid down on a rock and stared upwards, pointing out the odd satellite to one another as it pushed across the sky, or yelling "Shooting Star!" as one of us would spot such an occurrence as it too blazed a path in the night. Shooting stars incidentally, are not stars at all, rather meteoroids that enter and burn up in the earth’s atmosphere. It made our night no less enjoyable spotting one though.

I am predominantly an East Coast hiker and with that, am used to hanging my food in a tree at night in an effort to thwart bears and mice. I had spoken to a ranger who claimed that he always sleeps with his food in his tent. The concept felt odd to me, so I made a mouse baffle out of my cooking windscreen and hung our food bag in the lone tree tall enough to keep the food bag far enough off the ground. After getting in the tent and settling down for the night the rodent activity began. I noted a couple of mice and even a desert rat clambering (and clamoring for that matter) around in the tree. They would soon make their way further into the night, leaving us in peace.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Descent

The morning entering the Grand Canyon was worthy of all my warm gear, including a hat and gloves. I knew it would quickly warm as Laura and I descended, but there was no sense in being chilly for the first half hour. We would descend from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail, which is a major hiking and mule highway. While we did beat the mule traffic out of the gate, there were dozens of other hikers on their way down.

The descent was fairly straightforward as it was a well maintained path and used by mules nonetheless. There was a good bit of camaraderie in speaking to other hikers in passing, but the numbers thinned out past the six mile mark, Cottonwood Camp. Cottonwood Camp is where a majority of people stay on their first night down in to the Canyon. Laura and I opted to open with a 14 mile day, which would leave us near the very bottom of the canyon as our time was limited due to the permit process. We were just happy to be able to obtain a last minute permit allowing us to spend four days in the canyon.

As we hiked further down through the layers of Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, Redwall Limestone and Bright Angel Shale, the marvel of the Grand Canyon really took hold. Thinking about how the layer upon layer formed over billions of years and was then eroded away by the Colorado River was nearly unthinkable.

Upon reaching the bottom of the Canyon, Laura and I passed through Phantom Ranch enroute to our campsite. Little did we know there was a lodge at Phantom Ranch that had a fully stocked canteen. After what became a hot and sweaty hike we were delighted to be able to have cold drink at the canteen.

We stuck around for a ranger led talk on the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), a group formed by Franklin Roosevelt as part of the New Deal during the Great Depression. Given the similarity of that time in history to the present, I couldn’t help but think about how different the approach has been in providing for people during the times. The CCC was "for the relief of unemployment through performance of useful public works and other purposes”. As part of the CCC workers training, they were able to learn skills in their free time whether it was playing the guitar, speaking French, or Accounting. It provided potentially marketable skills. It sounds more palatable to me than the free handouts that have been happening as of recent. I consider myself a mostly Free-Market Economist and believe that things should unfold as they will without interference and yes, this includes Wall Street. But this isn’t about Government.

Our camping area was a half mile further down the trail and shared with up to 30 other groups. Camping in a congested area was not exactly what we were looking for in the Grand Canyon experience, though I must say, the park does a fantastic job of cordoning off the campsites. It was quiet and while having dinner near the tent, I would never have guessed there were so many other campers nearby.

Packing in that many campers to a particular area does have an effect on wildlife, notably that it will come looking for food. As I was looking up at the night sky, a Ringtail Cat came poking through camp and made a move for the empty pots that were cleaned and drying on a rock nearby.

Laura and I spent an hour looking up at the night sky, talking, before turning in.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Permit Secured

So, I woke this morning to two inches of snow on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. While I knew it would be a tad chilly, I really wasn't expecting to be greeted by a blanket of white this morning. More importantly though my visit to the backcountry permit office was successful. I managed to secure permits to hike down the north side of the canyon, head to the backcountry down below and hike back up the south side (never mind the 215 mile drive back to the car parked at the north rim).



As the rest of the day was free, Laura and I did a 10-mile warm up hike along the Widforss Trail. By mid afternoon we had four seasons of weather; snow, hail, rain, clouds and sun. The trail hugged the canyon for about half its length, wound inland and ended at a lookout. My advice to anyone who will be visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time at the north rim is to skip the visitor center and let Widforss Point at the end of the trail be your first Grand Canyon view. It is rather remarkable.

The hike was also rich in wildlife, mostly in the form of Mule Deer, turkey, numerous species of chipmunk and the Kaibab Squirrel, which is indigenous to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. All in all it was a nice warm up to the hike in the Canyon itself.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Arrival in Salt Lake City

Flying in to Salt Lake City I was offered a splendid view of the snow capped Wasatch Mountains that hem in the east side of the city. The plan over the next couple weeks is to do a little hiking down into the Grand Canyon and then hit up Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Why not fly to Las Vegas as it is closer, you ask? Well, numerous reasons really, but I hadn't been to Salt Lake City before and I must say that I enjoy the fact that from nearly anywhere in the city there is a view of mountains.