Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hiking out, The South Kaibab trail

Part 4: South Kaibab trail, 7+ miles, 1/28/2010, 7hrs and 15 minutes

It's 6:30 am and the adventure begins- I step out into the pitch black of the grand canyon floor, turn my head lamp on high and wait for the girls (Karen and Cyndee) to arrive. I sit for several moments in the darkness with the sound of the rushing Colorado just behind me and remind myself that just because something will be hard does not make it impossible. "you can do this Erica!"

This was the view as we started our ascent, the sun had just begun to rise. It was almost like seeing the canyon in black and white or grey tones, a different view, and one I am grateful for.

And then suddenly the colors were brilliant again as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I wondered if we might catch up with it (this trail is REALLY steep).

As we hiked up it was refreshing to look back and see things getting smaller, the Colorado seems very different from here.

Looking past the desert landscape to the snow covered peaks shrouded in clouds- it is truly easy to forget how difficult this hike will be and to remember that I would not be awarded these amazing sights had I not taken on this challenge.

Peering down into the canyon it is hard to believe that we have climbed high enough to have such an expansive view of the "big ditch" and we are not yet half way up.

We are approaching the 4,000 foot mark where the snow will begin, so we stop to put on our crampons (Yak traks) to help with gripping in the snow. I thought this wooden portion of the trail was amazing- a beautiful piece of engineering in a place that often doesn't seem to be touched by human hands.

WOW! Notice the agave shooting up through the center of the photograph- these amazing plants seem to defy gravity and prior to their death the top blooms with brilliant yellow flowers.

The condition of the trails as we continued our climb- steep and now snow covered. There were times that the foot path had been laid on the very edge of the sloping snow bank (pretty precarious hiking, hence, no photographs). I imagine that if I were to go back in warmer times I would find that the trail was actually much closer to the rock face and that in following other human paths we had been led slightly astray.

Taking photographs turned out to be a great little break from the up hill climb. The intensity of the hike was so much that we had to stop in intervals to catch our breath ( I will attribute at least some of that to the thin air and not wholly to my lack of physical endurance).

This photo is from a point of the trail called Cedar Ridge.

And now the hardest part of the trail begins- the challenging thing about the South Kaibab trail is that the top two miles are the most difficult part of the hick. In that moment, standing at Cedar ridge, it was hard to believe that this trail could get any steeper or more challenging. (The trail is just to the right of the rock wall in the photograph below.)

Notice how the clouds seem to be a mirror image of the snow on the trail.

And here it is, the last set of switchbacks( a way of cutting the trail in a zigzag pattern on a rock face that is otherwise to steep to traverse). In this photo you can see Cyndee ahead at the base of the switchbacks, each diagonal line of snow and rock represents a different leg of the trail. About half way up and to the right you can see a section where the snow gets thicker- when we arrived to this point there was a 6 foot drop down a snow embankment that we had to jump(!)to continue on the trail ( funny enough- this was the only moment in the hike when my fear of heights kicked in), I opted for sliding down on my tush.

And then we were at the top, the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming! Here is a photo of me in front of the south Kaibab trail head sign and I am smiling (not weeping as I thought I might be)!

And here are the girls, Cyndee and Karen.

Hiking the Grand Canyon is by far the most physically challenging thing that I have ever done, but I expected it to be. I am so grateful that I met Cyndee and Karen at the ranch, hiking out alone would have been far more difficult. Just the day before we were total strangers who were suddenly and serendipitously connected by a common challenge, and I know we have made a lasting impression on each others lives. I have been rolling around in my mind a list of Grand Canyon life lessons (sometimes a bit cliche, but never the less relevant) and high on that list would be the inherent need for community/ human interaction.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to hike here, the experience brought me back to myself and the revelation (or remembering) that life is indeed about the journey. And that we should remember to stop and be a part of a place, to truly see and feel it. There were two words/thoughts that surfaced at many moments during my time in the canyon- journey and momentum(self imposed or otherwise). I have mentioned the journey, but now to momentum. As I hiked down I found that I was being forced forward by the momentum of the canyon, a power that seemed much stronger than my own ability to stop at times. And then when hiking up I found that the momentum/forward movement all rested on the shoulders of my own ambition/desire. Canyon life lesson #....- When you follow the push of an external force you may find yourself at the end feeling battered and I little unsure of where you have been, but when you follow your own dreams/ambitions you may have struggled but you are fully aware of every step of the journey, and proud to call it done.

Clear Creek and River Loop Trails, still in the canyon

Part 3: Clear Creek Trail To Phantom Lookout and River Loop Trail, 1/27/10

Today it is snowing on the rim, but down in the canyon it is just a bit overcast, and at moments the clouds seem to be drifting below the rim. I decided to hike the two shorter trails that lead out from Phantom Ranch today. I head out tomorrow and I want to be sure to see as much of the wonderful place as possible.

Clear creek trail is just a short distance up the North Kaibab trail and leads up to a beautiful overlook point. The colors were so different because of the cloud cover, it was as if everything was darker and deeper.

Once I made it to the overlook the snow capped peaks seemed so much closer than they had been in days. Already I had begun to forget that the world up there was completely covered in snow ( 4 feet when I left and then about 8 more inches while I was in the "big hole").

Cyndee and Karen, my new hiking partners, were kind enough to take a photo of me from the lookout. The views were panoramic.

Clouds drifting into the canyon.

I thought the gradient of colors created by the low clouds was truly spectacular.

The Colorado river. Colorado means red, and it turns out that I was very lucky to actually see it in it's natural state of rusty red. Dams have stopped the flow of sediment down the Colorado which causes the water to be clear most of the time. This is pretty significant because the River cut the canyon by carrying sediment, which slowly cut down through the canyon floor.

Another view of the Colorado. The sound of the rushing waters was truly intense.

Look at the photograph below in the lower right quadrant and you can see a stone building ( to give perspective- that is a large two story building ) just beyond it is a small group of trees, if you look very closely into that grouping you can see my temporary abode at the River Ranger Station.

And here is a closer look. The River Ranger Station was a really quaint place with a full kitchen and separate bedroom. And look to the far left, there is an anvil on the front porch, a significant symbol for me.

This last photo is of Bright Angel Creek running just between Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Campground.

This is my last night in the canyon and my emotions are truly mixed, I am sad that my time here is ending, excited that I will be able to talk to Brian and the boys tomorrow and pretty darn overwhelmed by the idea of hiking out in the morning. We have decided to take the South Kaibab trail out to the rim, it is shorter than The Bright Angel trail by almost 2 miles, but much steeper. I have learned many things in my short time at grand canyon and one is that when someone here says it is steep, they REALLY mean it.
I spent the evening taking in the sights in and around phantom ranch, did some sketches and had a few conversations with some of the amazing folks I had the privilege to meet. And as dark fell I was off to the ranger station for miso soup and an early bedtime, we were scheduled to leave at 6:30 am (still dark).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls

1/26/2010 I woke up this morning with the canyon shuffle in full swing-just imagine me sliding my feet, not really picking them up at all, in about 6 inch movements- really funny to watch. I know this because as I shuffled along I was able to observe my fellow hikers in the same situation, we all laughed as we tried to make our way up the stairs to the canteen. But, talk of a waterfall was too much to resist so I headed up the North Kaibab to Ribbon Falls.

Part 2: North Kaibab to Ribbon Falls , 12.5 miles round trip, approx. 6 hours

At the trail head were at least 30 mule deer, what a way to start the hike. They just slowly step out of your way, well, until this guy- he just stood on the trail, I bet I waited about 5 minutes, just watching him and then finally he strolled away. They are called mule deer because of the large ears that move independently.

Bright Angel Creek runs through Phantom Ranch and along the North Kaibab trail, it is a beautiful stream with rushing waters, the sound was wonderful as I walked. The trail is over to the right of the stream in my photograph.

This section of the trail is called the box because the canyon walls are so close together.

Even within the vast expanses of the canyon there were so many intimate textures and objects that caught my eye. I found it so amazing that in such an enormous place the little things still had so much visual power. I thought the textures of this decaying wood were absolutely beautiful, I took several photos but this was my favorite.

Petroglyphs and pictographs are not uncommon at Grand Canyon- this is a place steeped with history and the lives of people. On my hike I found a modern day petroglyph- left recently by I hiker like myself- though only days old it still seemed like an interesting human mark on billion year old rock.

This portion of the trail was actually a man made bridge over low rushing water- it was beautiful with the tall yellow rods growing on either side. I was able to walk the path and run both hands along the growth, which was much taller than me.

This is Bright Angel Creek rushing over rocks, brilliant in the middle of this dry canyon. There was a sense of safety in being able to hear the the rushing waters, I never felt lost as long as I could here that sound.

Walking along in a world of reds, browns and greys and suddenly I see this brilliant green growing on the shade side of a large boulder. Green, rust and mint colors covered just one side of this large rock, so beautifully designed that it could have been a painting.

OH! and then there was Ribbon Falls. I could see it from a distance and it was spectacular, a thin "ribbon" of water cascading into open air over the cliff's edge. I was mesmerized as I got closer, but then suddenly the trail seemed to end. Ranger Steve was telling me just the night before to be sure that I took the trail behind the falls so I felt certain that I was missing something. I looked for several minutes and still couldn't find it, so I climbed I tall rock (to get a better view) and had lunch. As I sat there alone, in the midst of a beautiful waterfall, 6+miles from the last person I had seen, reading a topographic map, I realized that I was truly as far from my day to day life as I have probably ever been- and I felt suddenly very motivated to find my way to the edge of the falls. I climbed down from my rock and found a way through water and over boulders to the edge of Ribbon falls and the beauty of it took my breath away an yet again grand canyon brought tears to my eyes. You can't see it in this photo but there was a rainbow in front of the lower portion of the falls- the falling waters and the brilliant colors were even more amazing in the rigid rock landscape.

The trail behind the falls was easy to find once I made my way to the waters edge. the view looking through the falling water was profound in such a dry landscape.

Still behind the falls I was enamored by the large moss/algae covered rock that the waters first landed on. It was the enormous living, bright green mass in the midst of all the red rock, talk about complementary colors.

Silhouette/Shadow portrait at the falls. I started to think of these as my own temporary/digital petroglyphs ( like the modern petroglyph pictured earlier), a digital mark in this prehistoric landscape. What you can't see in the photograph is that the shadow of the waterfall was rushing by me to the right, a constantly moving shadow.

View from the far side of ribbon falls.

Heading Back to Phantom Ranch. You can see the path of the trail by following the creek through the canyon.

Another intimate path, within the wide canyon floor, surrounded by growth- I was taken by how rough/hard/abrasive the plant life was- it would have to be to survive in such a harsh environment.

This last photo is of Phantom Ranch, sitting in front of the Canteen (were I stopped to get fresh drinking water)looking out through grass and trees at some of the cabins, a beautiful place.

The hike to Ribbon Falls was phenomenal and I would do it a thousand times more, even with the calves of fire! In that 12+ mile hike I only saw one person, but I also saw mule deer, a big horn sheep (a lucky glance to the right), ravens and a variety of other birds. There were all variety of plants that I have never seen to include the Agave, which I am now a smidge obsessed with.
I had dinner in the canteen that night- yummy veggie chili and delicious salad ( I had been eating food I hiked in, good, but nothing like real cooked food and fresh green stuff). I was so hungry that I am pretty sure I was eating with two hands, I don't think I elbowed anyone in my flailing attempts to cram food in my mouth. Met some really great people at the dinner table- all of us in the same state of awe, exhaustion, canyon shuffle and sense of community and instant friendship- some pretty spectacular folks. It is at dinner that I met Karen and Cyndee and they became I big part of the rest of my time in the canyon.
I had to walk a half a mile or so to my new home at the River Ranger Station after dinner, and let me tell you- Grand Canyon Dark is really different than the dark at home. I carried my head lamp which illuminated approx. 10 feet in front of me and thought awfully hard about the cougar sighting in the area a couple of nights before- I realized quite abruptly that I have never been trained in the art of dealing with a cougar-WHEW! I have probably never been so happy to get inside.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Down into the Canyon 1/25/2010

When I found out that I was coming to Grand Canyon I knew that part of my journey had to include a hike down to the bottom. One of the many things that amazes me about this place are all of the biotic communities represented here, and the only way you can experience that diversity is to go down in the canyon. I am not a hiker so it took a lot of planning, preparation and research to get ready for this adventure- and then the day came. I plan to write about the hike and my time at Phantom Ranch in several different installments, so here goes.
Part 1: Bright Angel Trail, 9+ miles, 1/25/2010
I was so geared up with all kind of stuff(crampons, gaiters, walking sticks) that I was not familiar with until the sky dumped four feet of snow on Grand Canyon. I was actually supposed to leave two days earlier but the trails were so covered in snow that it wasn't safe. So I took a picture in all of my gear, while still in the apartment at Verkamps, to make memory of the beginning of my career as a hiker.
As I walked along the rim trail I was taken by how beautiful the Canyon was covered in snow, and honestly a little terrified that I was about to embark on my adventure alone. I paused for a moment, took this picture and reminded myself that there was a whole other world for me to see below the rim.
This is the trail head, check out the snow. I am not sure if you can tell from the photo but the narrow trail was flanked by snow that was up to my knees in some spots and as high as my thighs in others.Wow!
As I walked down the trail I was immediately taken by how textural it all was, the view from the rim is so expansive that it can be hard to see the subtleties of the rocks and trees. This site of this red rock jutting out from the snow over the trail was amazing.
Then I turned my head to the right and this is what I saw.

The trail travels down through several switch backs, helping you to gradually (still felt pretty steep to me) get down in elevation. At about 4,000 feet suddenly the snow is gone and soon you enter the oasis that is Indian Garden (about 4.5 miles down). Indian garden is a beautiful area with trees and plants and little streams passing over the trail. I stopped there and sat on a lovely bench to have a snack, slightly overwhelmed that I was not yet half way down. As I was leaving Indian Gardens I saw this tree, it was beautiful all on its own but then look at the view behind it.

It is hard to imagine that I was in a landscape covered in three to four feet of snow just an hour earlier.

I am very far from where I started. Standing in this spot it is crazy to think that I have come this far down and still have a far way to go.
My shadow in the sand. For now these are my versions of self portraits in Grand Canyon. feeling tall and strong and firmly planted in the earth.

These are natural patterns in the rocks. I could not believe how clear and crisp the black/grey lines were. The markings could not have been more beautiful had someone painted them.

Finally, the Colorado River and silver bridge, I was getting really close. When hiking down the Bright Angel trail you do not see the Colorado until you are close to the end- what a joyful sight.

The hike to Phantom Ranch took me just over 6 hours, it was beautiful and challenging and even at the bottom when my calves were so tight that I was walking more like John Wayne than myself (they call this the canyon shuffle, and everyone is doing it) I was so glad to be there. I cannot explain in words how phenomenal the transition is from rim to canyon floor, it is as if you are entering different worlds, one after the other. When I finally arrived at the main ranger station (my home for the first night), I just sat and soaked in all that was there, the beauty, the aching calves and the satisfaction that I had completed the first part of my canyon adventure.