Saturday, June 21, 2008

Humphrey Peak (Arizona Highpoint)

Another great hike. I was glad I started early because this hike had a ton of people on the trail. On the way up I really only saw about a half dozen people including a couple of trail runners who looked like they were running the whole way up.

The way down was a whole other story. I passed at least 100 people on the way down and when I got to the parking lot it was packed!

I also didn't stick around because I wanted to make it to Provo before the end of the day. Anne, Sy and Sore. Here I come!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wheeler Peak (New Mexico Highpoint)

I really enjoyed this hike. It had a lot of the ingredients that make a day hike a great one. Including, beautiful views...

... a fair amount of critters...

...and challenging trails (yes, that is snow and it is also the trail... and yes, I did loose the trail more than once).

I even got a bonus 13k summit about 1/4 mile from the summit of Wheeler Peak because the trail takes you over Walter Peak. The only negative was the headache I started to get around 11000ft. I think I was starting to get some altitude sickness. Luckily, it didn't get too bad and I was down in the early afternoon and on the road to AZ.

Here is a 360 view from the summit of Wheeler Peak.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Black Mesa (Oklahoma Highpoint)

I guess I am a sucker for punishment but after climbing Guadalupe Peak last year, I started thinking about trying to collect state highpoints whenever I had the chance. The drive to Provo gave such a chance. I decided to hit Black Mesa in Oklahoma on the way!

The hike was pretty much flat with a short incline from the valley to the top of the mesa but it took a turn for the worse after I reached the summit (4973ft). As I turned around to head for the car, I noticed a mean looking storm in the direction of the car and within a few minutes, I also saw a lot of lightning.

I decided to double time it down which ended up being a very good idea. As I approached the trailhead, marble sized hail began falling from the sky. As I opened the car door, the skies opened and hail and rain came crashing down. I took off as quickly as I could and still feel safe.

I stopped a few miles away in a bend in the road to see this weather basically immediately above the location of the summit. Yikes! That was a close one.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Grand Canyon: Cottonwood Campground to North Rim

After some debate yesterday, we decided on a 4:20am wake-up time with an attempted departure time of 5:00am. I must have been keyed up because I never slept until much 3:00am. I was more or less packed by 4:20am.

It was a good thing we left when we did because the day turned out to be very hot and we got to spend the first 4 hours of our hike more or less in the shade. Even with that advantage it was a very steep climb and the trail was such that it got steeper the closer you get to your destination. The Suppai Tunnel made for an excellent oasis after a particularly steep climb (about mile 5).

We plodded along from there and absorbed as much cool air aw we could whenever we ran into shade.

We made it out around 10:45-11:00. Along the way we had been leap frogging a couple from Colorado. They had a car at the trailhead and offered us a ride to the lodge. They were cool so we hung out with them over pizza and drinks too.

This trip has been fantastic!... and now that we are out... it is still great. Our cabin is only about 50 feet from the canyon edge. It is fun to sit back and look back at where we came from. Definitely a sense of achievement. I can also see Humphrey's Peak from here (highest point in AZ). There is still snow on it and I should be at the top early next week! Sweet.

Tomorrow is a shuttle back to the South Rim, a drive to Las Vegas, and then Tuesday we fly back to Austin. I may see if I can make a flight Monday night instead so I can get back to the real world and close things up in Austin. I am looking forward to seeing Anne and the boys.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Grand Canyon: Bright Angel Campground to Cottonwood Campground

It finally got cold enough for me to put a sheet on at around 3:00am. We woke up at 5:00am and were trail bound at 5:45.

This morning's hike was amazing. We had a 7 mile hike covering about 1500ft of elevation so we knew it wasn't going to grueling. That turned out to be true but we weren't anticipating the narrow canyon with sheer cliff walls we would be following the majority of the way. I was amazed at the intense beauty but also at the serious amount of work the trail crews must have done decades ago to make it possible. We crossed at least 6 bridges, countless places where rock had been blasted away from the wall to make way for a path and then retaining walls had been built as well. Our path also followed the water pipe and phone line that service Phantom Ranch below. It turns out the same water supply is pumped up the hill along the Bright Angel Trail for thirsty hikers on the south side of the canyon too.

Shot of the crew (Patrick, Michel and I) on one of the many creek crossings during the morning's hike.

During the hike I became nervous because all downhill slopes began inducing pain on the outside of my left knee. I think I may have done some damage on the descent yesterday. At a minimum it is very sore.

Our campsite is in a nicely wooded area that provides some shade now that the canyon has opened up. After arriving and putting up a fly for shade, I ran down to the creek for another dip. This time it took a lot more courage because it was so much colder. It was still very refreshing.

We arrived at camp at 9:30. I ate lunch at 10:30 and now I needed to figure out how to spend the rest of the day....

While we were hiking, I kept thinking about how awesome and big this canyon is and how it is only a small part of a much bigger canyon and that that canyon is only a piece of the whole Grand Canyon. It helped me put into perspective the sheer size and severity of the place.

After getting a little bored of swimming and waiting, I headed over to Ribbon Falls. We had passed it on our way up. Patrick and Michel both opted to stay at camp instead of tire their legs some more. It ended up being a nice (but hot) walk (~1.5-2 miles each way). The walls were like 80-90ft tall and halfway through the fall, the water hit a huge monolith that was covered in moss. The whole place was shaded and I couldn't help but lay down and soak it in.

When I got back to camp, it was time to get back in the stream, of course. That stream was the only real respite from today's heat which seemed even hotter than yesterday. Luckily the canyon is narrow enough that shadow from the neighboring mountain hit was around 5:30pm. Ah... relief.

We ran into 2 groups (2 halves of the same group actually) that had come from the South Rim... this morning! They were pushing on to the North Rim tonight as well. Ouch! Tomorrow's 7 miles and 4200ft climb will be enough as it is. I couldn't imagine doing our full itinerary, with a full pack, in one go.

All in all. Today was a great day. It was full of relaxing and avoiding the heat but I never really got bored. I just enjoyed the peace and was thankful for my chance to have been there.

Best food - The pepperoni stick I bought at the Grand Canyon Village.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Grand Canyon: South Rim to Bright Angel Campground

On the trail again!

That may have been the most spectacular hike I have ever been on! The views were awe inspiring. We had great weather too. As we descended, the lower elevation and the rising sun combined forces against us and the temperatures rose. By the time we made it to the camp at 12:45, it was probably at least 100 degrees. That is a pretty big difference from the low of around 60 at Mather Campground last night.

This morning we struck camp and made it to the shuttle stop at Bright Angel Lodge just before 7:00am and after a little bit of waiting, finally made it to the trailhead. Within the first 25ft of the trail, we encountered a view that would stop anyone in their tracks.

....this isn't actually the view I referenced above.

This last section of trail was particularly steep.

The hike though beautiful, was also rough. We estimated that we descended somewhere around 4700ft in about 7 miles. We stopped along the way to take pictures, let mule trains through (~4 times) and to catch a little bit of shade. Once we passed Cedar Point (~1.5 miles down from the trailhead) we saw a lot less people. The hike took us around 4 hours 45 min.

The Black Bridge. River crossing for the South Kaibab Trail.

It is amazing to see a raging river like the Colorado in the middle of such amazing desert. Our campground feels like an oasis with huge trees providing shade to many of the campsites. Once we selected a site the first thing to do was take a dip in the creek! After putting my feet in the water, I had a bite to eat and then enjoyed Mother Nature's jacuzzi. Some previous campers had dammed up part of the river making a small pool to lie in. That hit the spot!

We ended up passing the day with two trips to the canteen (for sweet, sweet lemonade, card playing and A/C). It is pretty amazing that these amenities exist at the bottom of the canyon. We camped a few hundred yards away from the Phantom Ranch ($93/night for the cabins!). We also took a couple of trips to the Silver Bridge (Bright Angel Trail river crossing), dipped our toes (at that was about it!) in the 40 degree Colorado River, listened to a Ranger program on California Condor, and then went to sleep.

Lost - While holding the pot of boiling water with my handkerchief, I accidentally dipped a corner of the cloth in the stoves flame. A few seconds later flame was everywhere and once I put the fire out, I was sad to see that my trusty bandana was no more. :(

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Grand Canyon: Las Vegas to Mather Campground

Well, we made it! After a short night in Las Vegas (the strip is quite the place) we finally were on our way. It took about 4 hours to get to the park. We did a drive by of the Hoover Dam and made an additional stop at the DQ in Williams (which incidentally has an average employee age of ~13 years old).... Although I have been to the South Rim before, I was unprepared for how beautiful this place is!

It seems unreal. The weather was beautiful today, providing clear vistas with minimal haze (although there definitely was some). We could see well beyond the 10 miles to the otherside of the canyon. We could even see Mt. Trimball, 60 miles to the west.

After setting up camp (#296 on Pine Loop in Mather Campground) we went to the store to grab some food and repair my mess-up. It turns out I forgot my stove which we were all counting on. Argh. Luckily the store rents them at $4/day. After fixing my mistake, we went and hiked a little more than 2 miles along the Rim Trail from Bright Angel Lodge to Hopi (?) Point. We arrived just before sunset and joined the throng of other tourists. As expected, the sunset was amazing. We stayed until the last bus came by and we took the free ride back to the lodge. The bus driver was a character named Gary. He has lived at the canyon for 20 years and apparently has a reutation for going off trail just about everywhere in the canyon..... without ropes! I hope I never read about him in any Death in the Canyon books.

I am glad to be here. The view is inspiring. The weather is cool here on the South Rim (high in mid-80s, low around 50) and the trail is calling! As it became dark, I was able to spot the lights of the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim. That is our goal, 3 days from now. Tomorrow our goal is Bright Angel Campground, 6.7 miles down the South Kaibab Trail and just off of the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Is that cool or what?

Miles hiked - 2 miles
Food - Deluxe breakfast at McDonalds, french fries and a Blizzard at DQ, Cheeze-Its, pretzels with cheese..... yikes! That looks terrible on paper. It tasted good though!