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Archive for the ‘Grand Canyon’ Category

What a year this has been! I have been kept quite busy by my consulting company, Trails Inspire, and sadly have not posted much on Sirena’s Wanderings this year. However, this post will catch you up on what’s been going on, there are many links to follow as well to articles I’ve written or appeared in. I thank all the readers that have followed me for the past eight years I’ve written this blog and those who find my posts a resource and inspiration for their hikes.

A Grand-Canyon sized thanks to Gossamer Gear and Huppybar for their support of my adventures! If you’d like more frequent updates on where I’m wandering, follow me on Instagram at @desertsirena. Here’s my favorite shot of the whole year, condors J4 and 02 playing queen of the rock in Marble Canyon. Now on to a look back at 2017!

California Condor

Condors playing Queen of the Rock

January

At the beginning of the year, I returned to volunteering at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I had taken a break for about a year or so and was so happy to be back! Volunteering there is one of my favorite activities and I am so fortunate to get to specialize in working with raptors – hawks, owls and falcons.Harris Hawk

I filed the official paperwork in January to form Trails Inspire, LLC, my consulting business. Trails Inspire promotes the outdoors through photography, public speaking, freelance writing, and trail project management. Thanks to Wendy Lotze for designing my beautiful logo! Visit the website to learn more – I am currently booking speaking and writing gigs for 2018, contact me at sirena@trailsinspire.com. We’re also on Instagram and Facebook.Trails inspire Square Logo visit www.trailsinspire to learn more!

January 25th marked the 20th anniversary of my accident, when I was hit by a truck while walking across the street. That moment changed my life forever and I wanted to commemorate it with an outing in the Mineral Mountains with my friends Wendy and India. They were very good sports about it even though temps dipped into the 20s.

Hiking up to the ridge

Hiking up to the ridge

As a result of that accident, I developed fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that made me very ill for most of my twenties. I found hiking while trying to manage my condition and it led to wellness and adventures I’d never thought possible. It was a bittersweet trip,  I had gone a decade without a flare. Yet on the anniversary of my accident, I had been in a flare for two months already with no sign of it abating. I tried to find the gratitude in still being able to use my body to get outside. Rather than sit at home and feel bad, I chose to feel bad in nature and keep hiking and backpacking. It helped my mental state immensely.

February

I took a roadtrip from Chicago to Tucson with my dad and we entertained ourselves by using the Roadside America website to find attractions to visit along the way. It even made Nebraska interesting, a feat I formerly thought impossible. We saw the World’s Largest Buffalo Nickel and Ball of Stamps, historic sites, and sculptures ranging from epic to ridiculous.

World's Largest Ball of Stamps

World’s Largest Ball of Stamps

I had an article published about the 5 Best Hikes in Superior for the Pinal Nugget, which gave me a great excuse to visit for research.

Picketpost Mountain

Picketpost Mountain

I hiked to the top of Picacho Peak for my 43rd birthday and again a week later with my nephew Gage. Gage moved to Arizona from Michigan and I’ve really enjoyed introducing him to hiking.

Perfect weather for a birthday hike!

Perfect weather for a birthday hike!

March

Backpacked the first 60 miles of the Sky Island Traverse with Amanda “Not a Chance” Timeoni from Cochise Stronghold East through the Dragoons, over to the San Pedro River and followed the river down to the San Pedro House. I loved hiking among the giant cottonwoods of the San Pedro and there were lots of interesting side trips along the way to see archaeological sites and historic structures. I managed to hike a 20-mile day in spite of being in month five of my fibromyalgia flare. It was a triumph that made me feel better mentally if not physically. Chance was a great hiking partner and I really enjoyed her company. She’s hiked over 14,000 miles on long distance trails since 2009.

Stunning Cochise Stronghold

Stunning Cochise Stronghold


San Pedro River - Sky Island Traverse

Hiking in the San Pedro River to stay cool (and because splashing through the water is fun!)

April

I attempted again to hike from South Bass to Hermit in the Grand Canyon, the hike I’d been helicoptered out of with a torn calf muscle the year before. Alas, the roads were muddy and we couldn’t get to the trailhead so I hiked the Escalante Route from Tanner to Grandview again. Not a bad plan B – the Escalante Route is beautiful and there was a prolific wildflower bloom that was unlike any I’ve ever seen in the Canyon!

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail


Unkar Overlook, Escalante Route

India and me at the Unkar Overlook


After the rain came the spectacular sunset light show

After the rain came the spectacular sunset light show


While my hiking companions sleep, I play with lights

While my hiking companions sleep, I play with lights

The week after my Grand Canyon hike, my six-month fibromyalgia flare finally subsided and I was so grateful for my renewed health. It had been mentally and physically exhausting to be in pain all the time,  there had been a searing nerve pain in my right scapula along with the accompanying symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression.  I hope that it will be another decade before my next one. No picture because it’s an invisible condition, I look the same whether I’m in a flare or not.

Sadly, upon hiking out of the Canyon, I learned that the Wildlife Rehab had suffered a devastating fire that burned parts of the facility and resulted in the deaths of over 30 of our birds. The saddest part was that three of our educational animals, who we’d had for a decade, perished in the fire. Heartbreaking.

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Aftermath of the fire outside


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The bird room after the fire

I gave a couple of talks in April – the first was about historic sites on the Arizona Trail for the Glen Canyon Natural History Association in Page. You can listen to a radio interview I did about it. It gave me a great excuse to do some exploring in the area and I hiked to the Colorado River via Cathedral Wash and got to see condors sitting on an egg from the Navajo Bridge.Glen Canyon NHA

In Silver City, New Mexico, I gave a talk on Hot Weather Hiking Tips at the Continental Divide Trail Kickoff and also published an accompanying article for the American Long Distance Hiking Association – West.

Canyoneered the Salome Jug in the Sierra Ancha with Meg and Russ Newberg. It was a gorgeous, sculpted pink canyon with lots of fun swims.

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Salome Jug with Russ and Meg


The Jug - Russ Newberg

Salome Jug – Photo by Russ Newberg

I spent some time in Oracle, north of Tucson, volunteering with the Arizona Conservation Corps to maintain my 3-mile section of the Arizona Trail for which I am a steward. My Oracle Adventures: 3 Hikes article was published by the Copper Town News and I got to visit one of my favorite places, the High Jinks Ranch.

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Trail maintenance with Arizona Conservation Corps


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Oracle State Park

May

My nephew Gage went with me on his first backpacking trip, I chose Hutch’s Pool and he did great! It was a toasty hike in but the swimming made it all worth it.

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Gage on his first backpacking trip


Hutch's Waterfall

Hutch’s Waterfall

I advocated for our public lands and urged people to submit their comments for the review of 27 National Monuments by the current administration.

June

In June I started my company’s first big contract – to develop a community trails Master Plan for the Town of Tusayan, Gateway Community to the Grand Canyon and Arizona Trail. I traveled to Tusayan to meet with local business and landowners, the Kaibab Forest and Grand Canyon National Park. After work, I got to visit the Canyon and camp in the forest, it was amazing!IMG_6255

At the Wildlife Rehab, work continued on the facility and I put together a fundraiser event – After the Fire – to supplement the donations that were coming in online. It was a wonderful event at Sky Bar with fantastic entertainment and people really enjoyed meeting our remaining educational animals.

MoJo Grass

MoJo Grass


Nancy, Citan and Janet Miller

Nancy, Citan and Janet Miller


Marjani Drum Solo

Marjani

For Father’s Day, one of my stories about my dad was featured on the She Explores podcast. My dad has been a great supporter of my adventures, but we didn’t always get along when I was growing up.

Sirena and her dad, Budh Rana - photo by Levi Davis

Sirena and her dad, Budh Rana – photo by Levi Davis

July

Right before the monsoon rains comes Saguaro fruit season and this year was incredible – so much fruit! I harvested, dried and made plenty of fruit leather to last the rest of the year.IMG_6237

I visited Aravaipa Canyon for a leisurely trip with lots of hanging in the hammock, coloring, writing and listening to music. It’s always a gorgeous destination and the trip revitalized me for the whirlwind that was the rest of the month.

Aravaipa Canyon

Aravaipa Canyon

Wendy and I had a rare moment in the same town at the same time and we hiked the Florida Trail in the Santa Ritas, a new one for me. Monsoon rains were great this year and when I hiked Pusch Peak, the normally-dry fall was flowing and there was even enough water to take a swim in the canyon!

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Florida Trail


Pusch Peak

Pusch Peak

I attended the Arizona Governor’s Conference on Tourism representing Trails Inspire and reconnected with many colleagues and made new contacts.

Arizona Governor's Conference on Tourism

Arizona Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Outdoor Retailer’s last event in Salt Lake City was at the end of the month. There were a number of events about women and diversity and I really enjoyed the sense of community that grew out of them. I wrote a story about it for Gossamer Gear’s blog. I also had a photo featured in Liz Thomas’ Backpacker Long Trails book. It’s a photo from my hike into Grand Canyon with the Warrior Hike veterans program.

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Women Who Lead panel


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Liz Thomas and me

August

After developing and getting responses on a public questionnaire, I held a public meeting for the Tusayan Community Trails Master Plan, which also meant that I got to visit the Canyon again.

Herd of Elk near my camp in Kaibab National Forest

Herd of Elk near my camp in Kaibab National Forest


Huppybar in its Natural Environment

Huppybar in its natural environment

My friend Meg had been wanting to try out backpacking so I put together a trip to the Wilderness of Rock on Mount Lemmon. It was one of the most intense nights of lightning I’ve had and one Meg will not soon forget. A couple of days later, I was in Oracle when they got over 4 1/2 inches of rain in one night!

Wilderness of Rock

Wilderness of Rock

Brian and I met my dad in Garden Valley, Idaho for the Solar Eclipse. It is hard to describe what a profound experience it was during totality. Brian, an amateur astronomer, had been telling me about this eclipse for the last 10 years and I’m so glad we made the trip. We also got to visit the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, what a treat!

Brian, Dad and me ready for the eclipse

Brian, Dad and me ready for the eclipse


Bateleur Eagles from Africa

Bateleur Eagles from Africa

September

Took Gage on an overnight to Josephine Saddle in the Santa Ritas and we also summitted Mount Wrightson. Wrightson was my first big peak and I was excited to share the feeling of triumph with my nephew. He absolutely loved it and was amazed at the views and accomplishment. We had an epic sunset on the way back to our camp.

Summit of Mount Wrightson

Summit of Mount Wrightson – 9456 ft.


Sunset from the Baldy Trail, Mount Wrightson

Sunset on Baboquivari from the Baldy Trail, Mount Wrightson

Returned to Tusayan to lay out a potential trail corridor based on the public and stakeholder feedback from the questionnaires and meeting. I worked with Mark Flint, of Southwest Trail Solutions, who has designed miles and miles of trail for Pima County and the Arizona Trail. The layout was a lot of fun and we ended up with 13 miles of new multi-use non-motorized trail. The part I’m most excited about is the Grand Canyon History Trail, an interpretive trail that will tell the human history of the Grand Canyon area from Native American times to the present.

Meadow on the new Tusayan Trail system

Meadow on the new Tusayan Trail system


Mark Flint and Me

Working laying out trail with Mark Flint in Tusayan


Tusayan Sunset

Tusayan Sunset

Unfortunately, I had been having some continued troubles with harassment that escalated to the point of interfering in my new business. It had been a source of stress and anxiety that required me to seek not only legal help but also counseling. When the #MeToo coverage started blowing up in the news the following month, I could relate all too well. Not all harassment is of a sexual nature, but at the base of it all is the same power struggle. I am fortunate to have good friends and family, a supportive husband and a wonderful counselor who have helped to see me through.

Back to adventuring, I had always wondered what Upper Romero Canyon looked like and finally got to see for myself. My buddy Russ and I canyoneered down sculpted granite corridors and rappelled down waterfalls. It was good training for my upcoming big Grand Canyon trip.

Canyoneering Upper Romero Canyon

Canyoneering Upper Romero Canyon


Canyon Tree Frog

Canyon Tree Frog

Got a couple of horseback rides in with Carrie Miracle-Jordan on JJ.

Riding in the Santa Ritas

Riding in the Santa Ritas

One of the most amazing events I’ve ever put together of is Force of Nature: Women Who Inspire. I came up with the idea for the event when Niall Murphy from REI Tucson approached me about doing a presentation. Instead of just me doing my thing, Trails Inspire co-sponsored a multi-sport women’s panel discussion with a mountain biker, an equestrian, a rock climber, an ultrarunner and me, the backpacker. We had 200 people, mostly women, attend at the Tucson Hop Shop and it was everything I’d hoped. Women came away inspired and empowered to take on their own adventures and connected with each other and local community outdoors groups.

Force of Nature: Women Who Inspire

Force of Nature: Women Who Inspire – MC Lisette Wells-Mackovic, Backpacker (me), Ultrarunner Laura Swenson, Mountain Biker Veronique Pardee, Rock Climber Jenn Choi, Equestrian Carrie Miracle-Jordan

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October

My friend Heather “Anish” Anderson came to visit with her boyfriend Adam after they’d both hiked almost 4000 miles on the Oregon Desert Trail, Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trails. Check her Instagram @anishhikes, she’s always up to amazing things. After taking a couple days off, they were ready to hike so we backpacked from the top of Mount Lemmon out to Sabino Canyon so I could test my knees for my Grand Canyon trip. We spent the night at Hutch’s Pool and had a great time and the knees were ready to go!

Pistachio, Anish and me on Mount Lemmon

Pistachio, Anish and me on Mount Lemmon

I presented the Tusayan Community Trails Master Plan to the Town Council and they voted a unanimous yes! Next step is opening the Master Plan for a round of public comment and another public meeting, sometime early next year.

Tusayan Trails Master Plan

Tusayan Trails Master Plan

Got to see the Grand Canyon by air thanks to Grand Canyon Helicopters, the flight path went right over the route I was planning to hike. The Butte Fault/Horsethief Route was one of my favorite adventures to date. A whole week of fresh scenery, unusual geology, challenging terrain and logistics and breathtaking beauty. It felt so good to be out there solo, on my own timeline, feeling strong. Quite the different experience than the trip earlier in the year when I’d still been in a fibromyalgia flare. If you’d like to see what gear I bring, you can read this Gossamer Gear article about it.

Butte Fault

Butte Fault from the helicopter, Awatubi/Sixtymile saddle below.


Nankoweap Creek

Nankoweap Creek


Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte


Hiking up to Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle

Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle (same as in the aerial photo)


Lava Chuar Sunset

Sunset at Lava/Chuar

Six months after the fire at the Wildlife Rehab, Janet got to move back into her house and ready it to start accepting animals again. Thanks again to all who donated their time, talents and funds to help rebuild. The new structures and aviaries are better than ever, we’ll be doing an open house event once it’s all complete.

November

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, two houses away from my best friend Kristin. We met when I was four and spent our childhood exploring together. My mom was forever sending her brother looking for us in the patch of woods by our house. I moved away in 1994 but we’ve stayed close all these years across the miles. Our lives couldn’t be more different, and she came for a visit to experience a vacation like none she’d had before. I set up a camping and hiking tour of many of my favorite places in Northern Arizona and we had the absolute best time!!Best friends at Grand Canyon

We started out with a night in Flagstaff, then I got to take her to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was such a blast, doing all my favorite things, and seeing Kristin experience them with fresh eyes. She was a great sport, and I took her camping in Marble Canyon and to the Navajo Bridge and Lee’s Ferry. The highlight was watching the California Condors play king of the rock, I looked them up and they are both females, born in 2011 and 2013. I have never gotten a chance to photograph them in action before other than soaring way above. We finished the trip with a hike on the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff and then she was back to Chicago. We’re already plotting her return.

Marble Canyon Dance Party

Marble Canyon dance party


Best Friends

Hi there!

Since we lost our educational Great Horned Owl, Luna, in the fire, I started training a new one. It’s been an incredible process to take a wild bird (it can’t be released because of a wing that didn’t heal properly) and work with it week after week to get it used to being comfortable perched on a glove in public.

Training a Great Horned Owl

Training a Great Horned Owl

For Thanksgiving weekend, I got to house sit at one of my favorite spots in all the land, the High Jinks Ranch near Oracle. It was all I’d hoped and I got some great night shots and quality time on the Arizona Trail.Starry night at the Arizona Trail portal

December

Trails Inspire and I were featured in Phoenix Magazine’s December issue in a wonderful article by Mare Czinar.

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

After my Grand Canyon trip in October, I wanted another adventure to look forward to, so I asked my friend Mitch if he knew anyone that could help me climb Finger Rock. On the ascent to the base of the Finger, my quads started cramping. It was confusing, I had consumed what I thought was plenty of water, food and electrolytes, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I was able to make it to the base and decided not to go up the climb, just couldn’t take the chance of cramping up while on rope. I have been consciously practicing gratitude, so after a fleeting moment of feeling bad that I didn’t get to summit, I was able to enjoy the fact that I still got to see a new part of the mountain, take in the amazing views and get epic photos of my friends. What a great day, I’ll be back!

Finger Rock

Finger Rock

My dad came for a visit and we traveled to Whitewater Draw for the sunrise to see the Sandhill Cranes. It was a chilly 25 degrees, but worth it! We stopped for a fall color fix on the Arizona Trail in Cienega Creek from the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead. Fall in December, only in Arizona! Always good to travel with my dad.

Dad and me in Cienega Creek

Dad and me in Cienega Creek

To round out the year, I teamed up with Mitch and Bill for a holiday hike up Buster Mountain in Catalina State Park. I’ve been hiking with these two since our trip up Ragged Top in 2009 and the companionship is always top-notch.

Buster Mountain Holiday Hike

Buster Mountain Holiday Hike

I’m really looking forward to 2018 – lots of adventures planned, continuing to work on the Tusayan project, and more pieces of my Grand Canyon Traverse. One of the most exciting projects is writing a book about my story – from the accident that caused my fibromyalgia to the outdoor woman I am today. I’ve written several chapters so far and it’s been an amazing experience to revisit how very far I have come. Best wishes to all for the New Year and see you in 2018!

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I stared across the Grand Canyon at the farthest ridge in sight and felt the nerves and excitement coming up again. Dropping my vehicle off at the Tanner Trail on the South Rim, I’d return to it in a week if all went well. This would knock out another big chunk of my project to traverse the length of Grand Canyon.

To jump to a specific day, hold control and click the link to open a new page. Mobile users, just click the link. 

Day 1 Nankoweap Trail
Day 2 Nankoweap to Kwagunt
Day 3 Kwagunt to Awatubi
Day 4 Awatubi to Colorado River at Lava/Chuar
Day 5 Lava/Chuar
Day 6 Beamer Trail to Tanner Trail
Day 7 Tanner Trail

I also wrote an accompanying article for Gossamer Gear with my complete gear list for this trip.

  

Planning and Preparation

The Colorado River through the Canyon is 277 miles long, but once I’m done I will have hiked over 600 miles. The extra miles are from weaving in and out of side canyons, hiking in and out for access, and changing from one layer of travel to another. To date, I’ve completed 71 river miles. One of my favorite parts of this project is that there are often several routes to choose from, depending on what my preferred line of travel is and what I want to see. So the first step is deciding which route to take.

For this week-long solo trip, I hiked from the Nankoweap Trail on the North Rim to the Tanner Trail on the South Rim. I had a couple of options after descending Nankoweap: the river route, which is what the Hayduke Trail uses, or the Horsethief/Butte Fault Route. Each had its challenges.

Horsethief_Butte Fault Map

Overview map of the route

The river route sounds like it might be a stroll along the beaches, but in reality it is often a thrashfest through shoreline tamarisk and thorny mesquite and acacia, combined with travel on the rocky slopes above, contouring in and out of countless small ravines and drainages. The Horsethief/Butte Fault option was more strenuous and logistically challenging due to having to climb and descend numerous passes and a dry camp, but has unique geology on a historic route. Both routes require a boat shuttle across the river (or a packraft if you’re so inclined).

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River crossing at Lava/Chuar

The Butte Fault, which contributes to the depth of Grand Canyon, creates a weakness in the layers that allows travel behind a series of buttes and side canyons. This route was used first by Native peoples, then by rustlers moving their stolen horses from one rim to another, and also by miners and cowboys. I used to work as a river guide and had floated by the river route over 20 times, plus I’m a huge geology, archaeology and history geek, so I chose the 41-mile Horsethief/Butte Fault Route.

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Historic coffee pot in Awatubi Canyon

There was the added challenge of thumbing a ride across the Colorado River on a boat on day 4. Historically, people had forded at a low-water spot near Palisades Beach – but since the Glen Canyon Dam was put in in 1963, that was no longer an option. Since I had to get a ride across, I opted to have my rafting friends place a cache bucket for me so I would only have to carry four days of food off-trail with a dry camp instead of the whole seven days. I also had the logistics of a shuttle – It was 180 miles and 5 ½ hours between trailheads.

My friend Meg shuttled me to the North Rim and we basked in the warm hospitality of map guru Li Brannfors. I used a variety of resources to research this route and can’t go without thanking Chris Forsyth and Rich Rudow. I actually ran into Rich at the Marble Canyon gas station on our drive. He said, ” If you’re ever in a spot where you’re using your hands to climb too much, you’re off route.” I also really appreciate Doug Nering and Bill Ferris, Bob Bordasch and Rob Jones for their excellent websites. Li sat down with me and went over the route as well and gave me fantastic insight and maps. I also managed to get on a Grand Canyon Helicopters tour before the trip, which gave me a birds-eye view of the route.

Butte Fault

View of the Butte Fault, Awatubi Crest and Kwagunt Butte

 

Day 1

On the way to the Saddle Mountain Trailhead we got the Bison sighting Meg and I had been hoping for. The upper trailhead to access the Nankoweap Trail has expansive views up and down canyon. I met trio of hikers who’d just done part of the route and they pointed out some tips and landmarks. I was ready to go a little after 9 am and had a long day ahead.

Saddle Mountain Trailhead

Upper Saddle Mountain Trailhead

The Nankoweap Trail is billed by the Park Service as the hardest named trail in Grand Canyon. I started out at at 8800 feet at the trailhead off FR 610, and the creek where I was camping was way down at 3300 feet. It was a 3-mile trail through the Saddle Mtn. Wilderness just to access the Nankoweap Trail. There were fantastic views of the Vermillion Cliffs, Navajo Mountain and slope of the Kaibab Monocline in House Rock Valley. Eventually the view opened up to my right and there it was- the buttes, spires and temples of the inner Canyon. I looked waaaay in the distance, back to where I’d left the Jeep and the excitement of having a whole week to make it over there made me do a little dance. I gave the Canyon respect and asked for safe passage.

Edge of the Kaibab Plateau

Edge of the Kaibab Plateau

The trail enters Grand Canyon National Park after a steep dive through the upper layers. The Supai Sandstone extends out toward Marion Point and so begins a lengthy traverse. The trail was a lot better than I had expected in the Supai. The footing was solid and though the trail got narrow at points, it wasn’t alarming. It was not flat and there were tedious work arounds from rockfalls.

First Glimpse of Inner Canyon

First glimpse of the inner Canyon

Nankoweap Trail

Nankoweap Trail

Supai Traverse

Supai Traverse

Nankoweap Exposure

Nankoweap exposure

After Marion Point there was more of the same until Tilted Mesa. There was a Grand Canyon Field Institute trip that was being led by Christa Sadler. I’m a big fan of hers, she’s a backpacking and Colorado River guide and wrote one of my favorite books- There’s This River. It was nice to meet her and I wished them a good trip. That was at lunch on Monday and was the last time I’d see people for 5 days.

Butte Fault

Butte Fault

Nankoweap Selfie

Nanko Selfie

I could check out the beginning of the route I’d be taking across the canyon while coming down the Nankoweap Trail. After I left Nankoweap Creek, I would be on the Butte Fault/Horsethief Route until I hit the Colorado River, three days away.

The Redwall is steep and then there were traverses on horrible, loose, gravelly ball bearings in the Bright Angel Shale. My least favorite part of the trail, I planted each step carefully and was thankful for my hiking poles. I was happy when the rock layer changed to something more stable. I heard a buzzing sound and stopped – I couldn’t see the rattlesnake but it sounded like it was coming closer! I moved down the trail and finally saw it slither underneath a rock above me.

Thin Trail in the Bright Angel Shale

Thin trail in the Bright Angel Shale

As I neared the creek, my calf threatened to cramp so I stopped and ate some dehydrated green olives and slammed water with electrolytes. I caught it in time and managed to stave off actual cramping. Nankoweap Creek was lush with cottonwood trees and the wonderful sound of running water. I found a spot to camp upstream with great views of Mount Hayden and where I’d come from.

I checked out my options for starting out the route and then settled into camp for some night photography. The Milky Way was gorgeous! So good to be back.

Nankoweap Creek

Nankoweap Creek

Day 2

The sunrise turned the cliffs scarlet and it was colder than I had expected, glad I brought what I did. My detailed gear list is on the Gossamer Gear blog. The Horsethief/Butte Fault Route ascends and descends the faultline through a series of six side canyons: Kwagunt, Malgosa, Awatubi, Sixtymile, Carbon, and Lava/Chuar. Climbs and descents range from 500-1600 feet each.

Nankoweap Camp Sunrise

Nankoweap Sunrise

I went south in the side drainage west of where the trail meets the creek and then east up a drainage toward a break in the cliffband. This drainage led to large, dark red slabs that I had seen yesterday from the trail. I took a quick break under a juniper, my favorite tree. The route continued up the drainage with the angled rock providing ramps to get around the small obstacles. I was having so much fun! Looking at Nankoweap Creek, the fantastic geology, the junipers – it was so exciting to see new ground.

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Butte Fault

The ramp ended and the drainage entered the Kwagunt formation, which was a mushy yellow slope that was steep and loose but totally doable. Cresting the saddle, the views of Kwagunt Canyon and Butte were amazing. This area looks like nowhere else in the Grand Canyon I’ve ever seen. The fault has twisted the landscape and the palette of colors is so unusual. I traversed over to the eastern saddle nearest to Nankoweap Mesa and found a juniper for a long break.Hiking up to the Nankoweap-Kwagunt Divide

Nankoweap Mesa

Nankoweap Butte

I spent two hours in the shade, relaxing, enjoying the view and eating snacks and my Jacob Lake lemon raspberry cookie. I wanted to descend the eastern drainage, so I followed the ridge out and then dropped some elevation and traversed around to a rockfall. I crossed it, testing the footholds, and came back to the ridge that had a break in the cliffs to get into the eastern drainage. The hiking in the drainage was colorful and the route went easily down to Kwagunt Creek.

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Jacob Lake cookie, yum!

When I got to the creek, I was worried because there was a white crust in the creek which indicated minerals in the water. I had a terrible experience last year with mineralized water in Grand Canyon making me sick. It turned out to be ok. I visited an archaeological site and found corrugated and painted pottery and stone cores used for making tools.Ancient Artifacts

I had looked at the route out of Kwagunt to the Malgosa divide and chosen what I was calling the “grassy knoll”. It was a little less steep and I liked the looks of it. I made camp above the creek.

Day 3

This was the day where I would walk away from water for two days.  A dry camp always adds extra challenge and weight and I wouldn’t see any water until I hit the Colorado River. I got all ready to go by 9 am, loaded up with 9 liters of water, which weighs 20 pounds. Then I decided to spend another couple of hours by the creek since it wasn’t so hot. This is what I love about solo hiking, being completely on my own schedule.

Nine Liters of Water

Nine liters of water – ouch!

Dates, Goat Cheese and Bacon

Goat cheese, dates and bacon

I started hiking at 11, up the grassy knoll which was manageable and not too loose. There were some flatter terraces on the 1400 foot climb to the saddle. The views up Kwagunt Canyon made for a great distraction while taking breaks.

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Kwagunt Canyon

Kwagunt Canyon

At the Kwagunt-Malgosa saddle, I could see my ridgeline route into the drainage and the impressive upturn of Kwagunt Butte. I also took photos of the route heading up to the next saddle. The ridgeline was good footing for the 500-foot descent.

Kwagunt Butte

Kwagunt Butte

Off-trail Terrain

Ridgeline route into Malgosa Canyon

What goes down must come back up, so I started hiking in the drainage up to the Malgosa-Awatubi saddle. I had several different route descriptions and one said, near the top, you have two options –  stay to the left for the direct route to the saddle. Well, I went left a little early and ended up in a very steep and loose chute, pulling myself up with my hands. I recalled Rich Rudow’s advice: “If you’re ever in a spot where you’re using your hands to climb too much, you’re off route.” Oops.

I got to a place where I could break out of the chute to get a look around. I definitely didn’t want to go back down the way I came so I looked at the slopes around me. Those looked sketchy, steep and loose too. I pulled out my camera and looked at the picture I’d shot from the other side of the canyon. It looked like the chute I was in would go, it was just a matter of how sketchy it would be to rejoin the saddle. I committed to climbing up the rest of the chute. Finally I reached the top and was met by several ravines to work around. It was a steeply angled traverse on loose shale but not for too long. I placed each foot carefully, digging in with my hiking poles until I reached flatter ground and breathed a sigh of relief.

Kwagunt Butte Uplift

I took the steep chute to the left of the saddle, don’t go that way.

After a break at the saddle with views of the swoop of the Awatubi Crest, I started down into Awatubi Canyon. The travel was straightforward and I saw an old coffee pot on the grass above the canyon bottom. I had planned on camping at the Awatubi/Sixtymile saddle but I’d burned some time and energy on taking the wrong route earlier, so I decided to stay in the Awatubi drainage instead. The clouds rolled in and I was pondering setting up a tent, but took a chance and slept under the stars (clouds?) again. My bet paid off and there was no rain.

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Awatubi Canyon

Day 4

I was up and packed by 7 am. I wanted to get the climb out done while it was cool. I had 4.5 liters left of my 9 that I left with from Kwagunt and miles to go to Lava/Chuar beach on the Colorado River. The climb out of Awatubi was straighforward and took me about 30 minutes, sometimes in the drainage, sometimes on the sides. I looked for deer tracks to help guide my way. The light was dramatic and overcast, glad that it wasn’t too hot.

Hiking up to Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle

Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle

I descended from the saddle into Sixtymile Canyon and took the western bypass route, which shot straight down a rubble-filled hill. In an hour, I was down in the dry creekbed. Downstream of where I crossed looked intriguing, with Redwall narrows and filtered light. The climb out of Sixtymile had routes on the sides of the drainage and a good track on the last climb to the saddle. It took me a little under an hour and a half.

Pouroff Bypass Route in Sixtymile

Rubble-filled bypass

Sixtymile Canyon

Sixtymile Canyon

Cresting the Sixtymile/East Carbon saddle gave view into another world, one where the South Rim was visible and the vistas opened up to familiar temples and buttes. Desert View Watchtower was just a tiny nubbin on the horizon. I took a lengthy break here, enjoying the scenery. As with other parts of the route, helicopter tours buzzed overhead.

Views to South Rim from Carbon Saddle

Sixtymile-Carbon Saddle

The hike down East Fork Carbon Canyon had a good track and cairns most of the way. It was much more traveled than other parts I’d been on. There was even historic trail construction on a rocky switchback early on. Several bypasses to avoid steep pouroffs in the bed of the drainage were required, typical Grand Canyon. None of these were technical but some were loose and all were rocky. Eventually the obstacles ended and it was just a pleasant walk in a mostly-dry streambed. There were areas where water was flowing but it had the telltale signs of being highly mineralized. No thanks, I’ll wait till the river!

Historic Trail Construction

Historic trail construction

East Fork Carbon Canyon

Carbon Canyon

I hiked along the tilted strata until I reached the head of the Carbon Canyon narrows. I had last been here on the first river trip I ever worked back in 2012 with Grand Canyon Whitewater. We’d done a dayhike up the narrows and I remember the trip leader Brock saying, “Yeah, I used to backpack but I got into boating – and instead of hauling gear on my back for days, I get to come up here with a daypack and a cold seltzer.” I like both ways of exploring the Canyon myself.

Micro Chicken in the Carbon Canyon Narrows

Micro Chicken in the Carbon Canyon narrows

There was a good river runner trail between Carbon and Lava/Chuar Canyon and soon I was heading down the red Dox Sandstone bed of Lava/Chuar. It rained on me for about 5 minutes, just long enough to put my camera away and get my umbrella out. It was super exciting to see the Colorado River and know that my concerns about water were over. It was 2:30 pm and I had 1.5 liters left. I had gotten lucky with the overcast weather today.

Hiking to Lava Chuar

Fantastic geology between Carbon and Lava/Chuar

Lava Chuar Rapid

Reached the Colorado River!

The next matter was finding my cache. Since I had to carry so much water and cross the river, I had opted to have a friend cache a bucket with food for my last three days to help lighten the weight of my pack. I had photos of where they had hidden it, but when I looked, it wasn’t there. I had a momentary panic until I found it about five minutes later. It had been moved, but not disturbed and everything was still in the bucket. Whew! I always put some treats in the bucket and got my coconut water and mandarin oranges chilling in the river.

Lava/Chuar beach is a popular river camp and I thought I might have some company. I’d reached the beach with plenty of time for a river trip to come in. I had no idea when a boat would arrive to get a ride across, but I had put extra food in my cache and had all the water I needed from the river. I was able to relax and know that I had the supplies to wait.

Sunset Reflections

Sunset Reflections

The sunset was spectacular, first turning the water golden with fiery cliffs reflected, then the sky became purple and pink. What a time to have the whole place to myself. Doesn’t get much better than an outrageous river sunset after a challenging route, I was ecstatic.Lava Chuar Sunset

Nighttime brought the star show and I spent hours taking long exposures and light painting, enjoying the sound of the rapids. I spent the night in the mouth of the canyon and the wind picked up during the night.

Milky Way Light Painting

Me and the Milky Way

Party Lights!

Party lights!

Day 5

The next morning, I was up and packed early so I could move upstream to the beach where it would be easiest for someone to pick me up to cross. I organized my cache bucket, it would be given to whomever gave me a ride with my trash and extra food in it. Then I settled in to wait.

Thumbing a Ride Across the Colorado River

Thumbing a ride

The day warmed up and I spent a while sitting with my feet in the river with my umbrella, the cache bucket made a very convenient seat. I moved to the shade under a tamarisk where I could watch for boats and spent time writing, listening to music, and relaxing. Well, relaxing as much as you can when you’re in the middle of a Grand Canyon sandstorm – the wind was relentless. In times like this, you’ve just got to accept your gritty fate and make the best of it.

Attitude

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference”

I was pretty confined to the beach, I didn’t want to spend time in the mouth of the canyon because by that time, the boats are already in the rapid and can’t give me a ride. So I sat on my beach, looking upstream and telling myself, “at some point, you’re going to look up and there will be a boat there”. I did a couple of sewing projects, stared at the river, and thought about castaways. How crazy would it be to look toward the sea for weeks, months, years?

Another backpacker appeared across the rapid, he looked so tiny and really brought home how wide the Colorado River was at this spot. Once it got to be early evening, I realized that I was not going to get a ride across today. How strange to not see a single boat since I hit the beach at 2:30 yesterday! Commercial rafting season had recently ended but there were still private trips on the water. I was just in a spot with no boats. I was glad that I had added a layover day to my itinerary so it wasn’t a problem, only I was supposed to be on the other side of the river. No way to do that safely so I was staying put.

Waiting on the Beach

Winds gusted all day long and sand worked itself into every crevice of my world. Still, it was a great day and I really enjoyed having the time to just relax on my own private beach. The last time I stayed here was on my very last river trip that I worked as a guide in 2015, we had a full trip of 28 people. Now, the camp was all mine!

Day 6

I slept on the wet beach to try and minimize the nighttime sandblasting. I still didn’t set up a tent because sometimes that can be even worse. The fine silt gets trapped and whirled around in the noisy tent. Thankfully, when I woke up, the winds had stopped.

I wondered when I’d look up and finally see a boat. I’d been texting and joking about my marooned status (with my Garmin InReach satellite communicator) with my husband and a couple of friends last night, which helped to keep my spirits up. I could see a couple of backpackers coming down the Beamer Trail to Palisades Beach across the way, they looked minuscule.

And then all of a sudden, I looked upstream and there they were! Boats! I waved to get their attention and they started rowing over. I asked for a ride and they said they’d be happy to take me across. There were rafts and kayaks and they asked me where I had come from and I explained my route. It had been 44 hours since I arrived.My Uber is here!

I put my pack on the head boat, a cataraft, put on a life jacket and hopped on! The boatman was John Vyrmoed, Vice-President of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association and he joked about him being my Uber to get across. We rode through Lava/Chuar rapid, it was fun to be on a boat again! John deposited me at the base of the rapid and now I was finally on the same side of the river as my Jeep. I thanked him profusely, told him I’d rate him 5 stars for the Uber service and they took my bucket with them when they left.

I'm on a Boat

I’m on a boat

I dropped my pack and hiked back to the top of the rapid to connect my line and immediately began to see other backpackers. I found a spot on Palisades Beach to enjoy the afternoon. Funny, I moved only about a half-mile downstream from where I’d been for the past two days. It was a big, gorgeous sandbar that went partway into the river, perfect for relaxing. I only had 3 miles to go to my camp at Tanner Beach that evening.

Lava Chuar Rapid

Lava/Chuar Rapid

About an hour before sunset, I started on the Beamer Trail toward Tanner. The trail was flat and followed the sand for a while, but then cliffs appeared and the trail went up to traverse them. Reached Tanner at sunset and headed to find a spot to camp. As I wandered through the camping area, I heard, “Sirena?” and was pleased to find some folks that I know from the HikeArizona.com website. We had dinner together and shared tales of the trail. I left after dinner and camped on the hill underneath the impressive Comanche Point. Went down to the rapid to take one last round of night photos. Man, I hate the idea of hiking out. If someone would show up regularly with a bucket full of supplies I would never leave!

Tanner Rapid

Tanner Rapid

Day 7

The last several times I’ve hiked out of the Canyon, I’ve taken all day to do it and it makes it so much more enjoyable! Instead of trying to rush out, I leave early and take long breaks at different spots to enjoy the scenery and take it all in before topping out at the rim. I was in the shade for the hike up the Dox hill and feeling strong. After the route I’d been on, the Tanner Trail felt luxurious and fancy. My feet were not so happy, I felt a bunch of hot spots and put some blister bandages on. Realized that I was wearing socks that I hadn’t used in a while and changed them, that solved the problem.

Last Camp under Comanche Point

Last night’s camp under Comanche Point

I reached the Redwall Overlook, one of my favorite views, and took a couple of hours to eat and relax. One day I’ll camp here, but today I had to leave eventually. Took another long break on the Supai traverse, tucked under a juniper tree. Had my only injury, a branch at my break got me in the forehead. Bummer, I’d almost made it out without a scratch, and this one was going to scar. Everything scars due to my dark skin – I’d just have to look at it as yet another Grand Canyon souvenir.Redwall Overlook - Tanner Trail

I passed beneath the Desert View Watchtower and took another break at the tiny juniper at the 75-Mile Saddle with great views downstream. Then it was all about the final climb to the trailhead. It was steep and the air was thin at 6-7000 ft. Still, I felt great.

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My happy place!

I had saved one of my favorite snacks for the climb, a Honey Stinger waffle dipped in a single-serve Nutella packet. So good! I could see the rim but had plenty of water and food to sit on the trail for a while and watch the sunset. What a feeling to look all the way across the Canyon and see the Nankoweap Trail where I’d come from a week ago. I’d been so nervous – it had all worked out better than expected and was one of my best trips ever!

Top of the Tanner Trail

Top of the Tanner Trail – success! I came from the farthest ridge near the left of the the photo.

Smoky Sunset from Lipan Point

Sunset from Lipan Point

Thanks to all my readers for another year! I met some folks on the hike out who have used my blog as a resource for their Canyon trips and that made me so happy to hear. I haven’t posted as much this year due to getting my consulting company, Trails Inspire, off the ground but I’ll have a year-end retrospective of my wanderings up soon. Happy holidays!

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For the 101st Anniversary of the Park Service, I decided to finally get around to publishing a trip in the Grand Canyon that I did in April. Happy Birthday to America’s Best Idea!!

Before I get into my long overdue Grand Canyon triplog, here’s the reason I haven’t been posting much lately: I have been very busy with my new consulting company for trails and communities, Trails Inspire, LLC! The mission of Trails Inspire is to promote community trail use, development and tourism through project management, freelance writing, photography and public speaking. For more information on our services, visit www.trailsinspire.com.

I am excited to be working with the Town of Tusayan to develop a community trails system Master Plan as well as some writing assignments and public speaking engagements. I’ll be posting updates on the Trails Inspire blog and social media, so give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! Sirena’s Wanderings will remain active for me to continue sharing my adventures hiking, backpacking, rafting and canyoneering.Trails inspire Square Logo visit www.trailsinspire to learn more!

On April 1st, 2016, I was on day 2 of a hike from South Bass to Hermit in the Grand Canyon when my calf muscle tore. I had to be evacuated out, full story here. I got invited to do the same trip exactly a year later and was excited to have the opportunity to get that piece of my Grand Canyon Traverse completed. Unfortunately, the day before our hike in there was wet snow everywhere and we couldn’t make it to the remote South Bass Trailhead. Plan B was to do the Escalante Route and Tonto Trails from Tanner to Grandview.

It was snowing all morning as we shuttled cars and we couldn’t even see the canyon from the Tanner trailhead at Lipan Point. We hiked on snow for a short distance and descended out of the clouds to dry trail. No traction devices needed, though I was carrying some just in case. By the time we reached 75-Mile Saddle, we began seeing our first blooms – Cliff Fendlerbush.

Brrr! Snowy on the upper Tanner Trail

Brrr! Snowy on the upper Tanner Trail

Coconino rockslide, Tanner Trail

Coconino rockslide, Tanner Trail

Happy to be home. Tanner Trail, Grand Canyon

Happy to be home.

75-mile Canyon, Escalante Route

75-Mile Canyon

Traversing through the Supai, we got a momentary respite from the downhill. I was wearing patellar tendon straps on both knees for more support and they behaved all trip. I got giddy as we approached the Redwall Overlook. There is a short spur trail before the Tanner Trail dives through the Redwall with one of the most wonderful views upstream. Someday I am going to camp there. On this day, we made do with an extended break.

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

 

Mark taking in the view, Tanner Trail

Mark taking in the view

As we descended in the Muav, we saw the first of many Mariposa Lilies. I have never seen so many in one trip! We played a game to see who would spot the first blooming cactus. I saw a bright pink beavertail and the wildflowers multiplied as we lost elevation and hiked down from winter into spring.

Mariposa lilies, Escalante Route

The first of many many Mariposa Lilies

Descending the Dox to Tanner Beach

Descending the Dox to Tanner Beach

Ever descending on the Tanner Trail

Ever descending on the Tanner Trail

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Beavertail Prickly Pear, Escalante Route

Beavertail Prickly Pear

The constant sloping descent on the Dox Formation finally ended and we took an amazing break at Tanner Rapid, soaking our feet in the icy waters of the Colorado River and watching the waves. It’s been two years since I guided on the river and I definitely miss it sometimes.

We still had three miles to go to get to Cardenas beach, our camp for the night. We started the Escalante Route, which was well-traveled and dipped in and out of every ravine. It felt great to arrive at the beach and I was so tired that I didn’t even get up or take photos at night.

Escalante Route

So green!

I had been experiencing a Fibromyalgia flare for the last 5 months and had done a 60-mile test backpacking trip before this on the Sky Islands Traverse. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that I have had for 20 years, since I was hit by a car while walking across the street. I hadn’t had a flare for 10 years and the pain and fatigue were just as unbearable as before. I was having nerve pain on the right side of my back that was there 24/7, fatigue and hypersensitivity to touch. One of the problems is the neurotransmitters don’t function properly, causing pain, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. As always, time in nature made me feel better and kept my mind off of the problems I was having with my body. If I am going to feel like crap anyway, I at least want to be enjoying the outdoors. I was glad my body held up to our long day.

Micro Chicken pines for the river

Micro Chicken pines for the river

The next morning, we were covered in dew and spent a while drying our gear out before moving on. We hiked up to the Hilltop Ruin and marveled at the 360 degree view. It was only a short distance through fields of yellow flowers before our next stop at the Unkar Overlook. I love this spot, you can hang your head over the sheer cliffs and look down at Unkar Rapid and the Unkar Delta ruins across the river.

Hilltop Ruin, Escalante Route

Hilltop Ruin

Hilltop Ruin Ridgewalk, Escalante Route

Hilltop Ruin Ridgewalk

Unkar Overlook, Escalante Route

Unkar Overlook

Unkar Overlook with my camera, photo by India

Happy at Unkar Overlook with my camera, photo by India

The route ascended as we traveled toward Escalante Creek. There are a number of spots that would make a great dry camp with views. We found a small seep of water in the bed of Escalante as we hiked down toward the beach. After an Escalante Beach break with wave-watching, we hiked up through fields of blooming Brittlebush to 75-mile Canyon and followed the rim until we could get into the bed.

Escalante Route

Escalante Route – photo by Mark

Traveling toward Escalante Creek, Escalante Route

Traveling toward Escalante Creek

Traveling to Escalante Creek

Traveling to Escalante Creek

Escalante Beach, Escalante Route

Escalante Beach

The hike down the canyon to the river at Nevills Rapid is delightful and we spent a while enjoying the textures and colors of the Shinumo Quartzite slot canyon. We had Nevills to ourselves and I stayed up well after Mark and India went to sleep doing night photography and having my own personal beach dance party.

Narrows of 75-mile Creek, Escalante Route

Narrows of 75-mile Creek

Micro Bat and Micro Chicken

Micro Bat and Micro Chicken lair

Nighttime antics at Nevills Beach, Escalante Route

Nighttime antics at Nevills Beach

Day 3 we took the low route to Papago Canyon and I found a river-level juniper, which is quite rare and made me very happy. Grand Canyon Junipers are my favorite tree of all. We got to the Papago Wall and Mark headed up to drop his pack and help India climb up. I went up next, no big deal since I’d done it before and knew there were giant hand holds all over the place. India did great and got up the wall wearing her pack. We climbed some more and squeezed through a tight spot, then reached a great view downstream toward Red Canyon.

Papago Canyon, Escalante Route

Papago Canyon

Up the Papago Wall

Papago Overlook, Escalante Route

Papago Overlook

The Papago Slide is a 300 foot rockfall made of every size of rock imaginable, most of it loose. We carefully picked our way down, leaving plenty of space between us. As we neared Hance Rapid, we saw some boats arrive at the scout point. Yay! Getting to see oar boats run one of the biggest and most technical rapids was awesome. As we took our break, another giant group of kayakers and boaters from the Czech Republic showed up and ran the rapids. Some of them even portaged their boats around to run it a second time!

Papago Slide, Escalante Route

Papago Slide

Mighty Hance Rapid

Hance Rapid

Kayakers from the Czech Republic scout Hance Rapid

Kayakers in Hance Rapid

There they go!

The weather started to change as we sat at Hance and I even had to put my puffy jacket on. Clouds rolled in, which was nice because we had a bunch of climbing to do to gain the Tonto Platform. The Tonto Trail begins at Red Canyon and the layers slope upward because of the appearance of the Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite that make up the Upper Granite Gorge.

Rising above the river on the beginning of the Tonto Trail at Red Canyon

Upper Granite Gorge emerges as the Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite become exposed

As we reached Mineral Canyon, it started to snow! Big, fat wet clumps called snow cones (Really! Mark is a meteorologist). There was a handy overhang for us to suit up in our rain gear. Snow turned to rain and we climbed out of Mineral Canyon, finally reaching the Tonto Platform near Ayer Point. The rain was really coming down as we got to the camp spot I used in 2015. We used teamwork to put my Gossamer Gear The One tent up first and stash the packs inside the vestibule so we could put the other two up. It rained for about two hours and when it stopped we emerged to the most spectacular scene of dramatic light and snow-frosted Canyon complete with rainbows and an amazing sunset.

Dewy Mariposas

After the rain came the spectacular sunset light show

Rainbow over Solomon’s Temple

I went to sleep and woke up about 3 am to answer nature’s call. The sky was outrageously good with the Milky Way prominent. I put all the clothes I had with me on and got my camera. It was chilly and I had to dance around to keep warm but the photos I got were worth it!!

The One

Milky Way

While my hiking companions sleep, I play with lights

The next day we followed the Tonto into Hance Creek and took a break near the inscriptions. I couldn’t find the one that said HANCE and there was a big hole taken out of the wall. Could someone have taken it? People are so strange.

Sweet little pothole with water and a small slice of river visible below

Galloway Inscription in Hance Creek

Galloway inscription in Hance Creek

I had not done the Tonto around Horseshoe Mesa and it went quickly and was covered in Claret Cup Cactus, Indian Paintbrush and Mariposas to our delight. We also saw blooming Redbud trees, a favorite of mine.

Indian Paintbrush

Redbuds!

Purple Sage

As we rounded the corner of the west arm of the mesa, Zoroaster, Brahma, Isis and the Cheops Plateau came into view. It was nice to see these familiar landmarks. We reached Cottonwood Creek and found a spot for the night. India and Mark were on the ledges near the waterfall, I climbed up to a spot just big enough for one on a perfect Tapeats ledge complete with my own personal camp juniper.

Cottonwood Canyon Camp, Grand Canyon

Looking down on Mark’s camp in Cottonwood Canyon

Amazing ledge camp

Tonto Trail- Cottonwood Canyon, Grand Canyon

The perfect camp Juniper

We explored downstream a little ways, it’s very pretty with small cascades and ledges. I made a plan to return at night. I set my alarm to go off at 3 am since I had such good luck the night before and I was not disappointed. The Milky Way was bright over Grandview Point and I took photos until the stars faded at 4:30 am.

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Stars in Cottonwood Creek

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Milky Way over Cottonwood Creek

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Sleeping Under the Stars

Cottonwood Creek Waterfall, Grand Canyon

Cottonwood Creek Waterfall

I was reluctant to leave the Canyon, I could have easily spent another week down there. I joked that they should leave me and I could just subsist on begging extra food from incoming backpackers who had overpacked. India was a little intimidated by the climb out and I told her that we were going to make it fun by taking a bunch of breaks and going at whatever pace she wanted. I was secretly pleased that no one wanted to rush out and get home and that Mark wasn’t in a hurry either.

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Steeeeep!

We climbed and climbed out of Cottonwood Canyon and took an extended break on the “neck” of Horseshoe Mesa. The Grandview Trail is crazy steep, but we just took our sweet time. Another long break at Coconino Saddle and as we gained elevation we could look back on our entire route from the last five days. They practically had to drag me out of the Canyon, as I said, I was not ready to leave. There had been a lot of work done on the trail since I last hiked it and it was in great shape. We passed clean, perfumed dayhikers and answered questions like, “did you spend the night down there?” And just like that,  we were at the trailhead and it was over.

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Looking down on Horseshoe Mesa

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Almost there!

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Log Cribbing on the trail

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

This tree sadly means we’re almost out

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Topped out!

I was pleased to get through the trip even though I was having a fibromyalgia flare and my knees held up really well. The best part was that three days after I hiked out, my nerve pain in my back finally went away and I began to feel better. So relieved! The physical and mental anguish was exhausting and having the flare has made me so thankful for the times that I am feeling good. I will be returning in October to do another piece of my section hike of the length of the Canyon and I can hardly wait.

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Click here to read Part 1!

The original plan of 23 straight days in the Canyon didn’t work out as planned, but I was still having an amazing time. After 8 days in the Canyon and a rest day playing tourist in Zion, Chris Forsyth drove me out to the Schmutz Spring Trailhead in Tuckup Canyon. I loaded up with a bunch of water and said goodbye to Chris. He was such an amazing help, not only for planning the hike beforehand, but also hiking with me, shuttling me all over the place and endlessly going over plans, backup plans, and backup plans for those backup plans. I also want to thank Rich Rudow, Chris Atwood and Jamie Compos for all their help when I was planning my trip. For the next seven days to Toroweap I’d be solo.

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Thanks Chris!

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

The next morning I started on the Tuckup Route. The descent into the Canyon was easy and I spent some time poking around the artifacts at the “Cubicle Boulder”. There was cowboy stuff, historic glass, and chips of rock from the manufacturing of stone tools.

Happy to be hiking back in!

Happy to be hiking back in!

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Tuckup Trail

Old fencelinedsc00515From the boulder, the route was cairned in the grasses toward Cottonwood Canyon. What an interesting and vast landscape in this part of the Grand Canyon, much different than what I’d previously been through. It was pretty warm and I heard a rattlesnake buzzing- it was a safe distance up the slope and just letting me know of its presence.

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Tuckup Trail on the way to Cottonwood Canyon

Rattlesnake

Rattlesnake

I contoured into Cottonwood Canyon and found myself a camp on a bench above. I collected some water, hoping I wouldn’t have to use much of it as it was reported to be mineralized. I’d brought quite a bit of water down from the rim with me. As night fell, I was washing my hands when I heard the unmistakable scream of a cat. It was as if someone played the “wildcat noise” sample from a sound effects board. Totally put my hair on edge and I picked up my pot lid and hiking pole and banged it while yelling “Go AWAY!” I saw some eyes reflected in the cottonwood across the creek that stayed there for a while, then they turned and went up the hill. Most likely a bobcat, but holy crap, I’ve never heard such a noise, especially when out solo! It didn’t mess with my sleep, thank goodness. I’d had enough of that this trip.

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Tuckup Trail

Fossil shell

Fossil

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Cottonwood Canyon Camp

The next day I contoured out of  Cottonwood and made my way around the arms of Rocky Point Canyon. Just as Rich Rudow had told me, the Tuckup Route comes and goes, and there’s trail construction in the drainages. Sometimes tough to find, but it’s there.

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So

The route goes in and out of a million gullies of varying depth and size

So many gullies to work in and out of

North of Dome Pocket Canyon, I found some potholes of water and set myself up with my umbrella for a siesta. It was delightful.There are few things I like better than a backcountry nap.

Shade and water are all I need for a siesta north of Dome Pocket Canyon

Siesta spot

Life finds a way

Life finds a way

I worked my way around Dome Pocket Canyon and the first arm of Fern Glen Canyon. There were some potholes marked on my map that I was shooting for. I was getting close and I went to step over a bush. My toe caught a branch and I fell, my shin and knee hitting a projecting piece of sandstone. Good thing I was wearing a knee brace, it took some of the impact and good thing it wasn’t limestone. That would have been a bloody mess. However, it did hurt as I hiked the last bit to camp. Only the morning would tell how bad it was. I had a spectacular sunset and moonrise at the potholes.

Pottery sherd from the rim of a vessel

Pottery sherd from the rim of a vessel

Gorgeous clouds over The Dome

Gorgeous clouds over The Dome

Micro Chicken finds a funky rock

Micro Chicken finds a funky rock

Took a fall about 5 minutes from camp, banged up my knee and shin

Took a fall about 5 minutes from camp, banged up my knee and shin

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Sunset and moonrise with The Dome

The next morning, the shin was sore, and my left knee wasn’t 100% happy. But I figured I’d be ok. I hiked over to the Willow arm of Fern Glen Canyon and took several of liters from Willow Spring, hoping I would find water in potholes and not have to drink it. There was a mineral crust on the walls that was way worse than Cottonwood Spring and the water was also said to cause intestinal distress.

Sunrise

Sunrise

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Walking along

Mineralized walls from the water in Willow Canyon

Mineralized walls from the water in Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon

The way from Willow Spring was tough to follow- there were several routes, some cairned more than others. Lots of cactus to avoid, especially tough when there was only a tiny bench of trail with a prickly pear growing in it. As I got closer to where some potholes were marked on the map, I realized I needed to be on the lower route so I found a rockslide to hike down to access the lower trail. The potholes I was camping at were all dry. I looked everywhere and none of them had any water. This made me nervous. I’d expected to find water in the evening, now there was none. I skipped making dinner and ate snacks that didn’t require cooking instead. It was a restless night and I woke up when it was still dark and got packed up so I could move at first light. Temps had been in the 80’s during the heat of the day.

I had seen a pothole nearby on my map that was supposed to be a good bet, but it was a bit of a bushwhack to get to. I checked there first. Nothing. I was going to have to go back to Willow Spring and get a bunch more of that mineralized water. Better than dying of thirst. I had been told that contouring along Stairway Canyon was arduous and didn’t know how long it would take me. There was no way I was going to risk going ahead with the water I had.

So I made my way back through the cairn maze to Willow Spring, collected 8 liters of water and tried to rehydrate before moving on. My pack heavy with 16 lbs of water, I hiked a third time through the cairn and cactus maze. I got some prickly pear spines in my feet through my shoes and when I stopped to take them out, realized that I’d lost my tweezers! What the heck did people do before the invention of tweezers? I tried with a needle but couldn’t get them out.

Cryptobiotic smile at the end of a tough day

Cryptobiotic smile at the end of a tough day

I stayed on the lower route into a gully along Stairway Canyon and didn’t like the looks of the exit, so I backtracked and hiked up a rockfall to the higher level. The higher level trail had clear trail construction in and out of the gullies, but now I was losing daylight. I’d spent a whole day chasing water. The route hit a saddle on a windswept ridge and I had to call it home for the night. I found a flat spot just big enough for myself that was protected from the wind but surrounded by razor sharp limestone. It was a marginal camp made even worse by the fact that I could actually see where I’d camped the night before.

Marginal camp on the ridge, surrounded by razor-sharp limestone

Marginal camp on the ridge, surrounded by razor-sharp limestone

Despite the marginal camp and the ever-growing intestinal distress, I enjoyed a spectacular full moon rise with The Dome. It was a rough night and I had to get up a bunch of times. Also, there were mosquitoes again- what?

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I had camped at the slickrock at the left side of the picture the night before but the moonrise was gorgeous!!

The next morning, I was shaky and sick from the water. Ugh. As I was getting ready to leave camp, I was taking my camera out of its case and it slipped out of my hand onto the sharp limestone. Good thing for warranties, but that wasn’t going to help me out here. At least it was only the last two days of the trip.

I hiked the high route around the bays and gullies of Stairway Canyon. It went well and I got to see some Bighorn Sheep from above. I was nearing an area with slickrock and possible potholes and found a way to the lower trail. Nothing. All dry. My stomach grumbled.

Cat

Cat

Willow Spring water got me feeling like...

Willow Spring water got me feeling like…

I was heading for potholes that were just south of Big Point all the way out on the rim. At this point I was pretty concerned and going through contingency plans if there was nothing there. Just before noon, I saw a beautiful glimmer in the distance. Water!! As I got closer, I realized why this place was said to be reliable- there was a pothole double the size of a hot tub along with about 10 other good ones. I yelled and cheered and gleefully poured out the rest of my Willow Spring water.

BIG pothole under Big Point

BIG pothole under Big Point

This is my happy water face

This is my happy water face!

I was a day behind schedule but couldn’t fathom the thought of not spending the night at this one of a kind camp. There were views downriver with a drop to rival that at Toroweap Lookout. I made the decision to just have a really long day the next day, it looked to be about 15 miles. The rest of the day was spent lounging about, enjoying the view, and cooling off and rehydrating with the sweet, sweet water. It was my last solo camp of the trip and I spent a while writing about my experiences. Camped next to a juniper and enjoyed one last bright red sunset over Vulcan’s Throne.

Spectacular view downriver of the mouth of Cove Canyon

Spectacular view downriver of the mouth of Cove Canyon

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The next morning I was up and hiking early. I had Big Cove Canyon and then Cove Canyon to work around on my way to Toroweap. There was an option to take a shortcut over the mesa but I stuck to the sweet swoopy trail. Which was sweet and swoopy until I wasn’t on the right level anymore and then had to scramble up or down to correct. Thankfully there was always a break in the cliffs nearby so I didn’t have to backtrack too much.

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Moonlight

Micro Chicken, my adventure companion

Micro Chicken, my adventure companion

Cove Canyon

Cove Canyon

I found the best artifact of the whole trip, a worked Archaic blade that was a gorgeous color. There are three main arms of Cove Canyon, but in reality it is like a fractal- arms break down into smaller and smaller arms and you have to work your way around all of them. It was a lot more routefinding than I had expected.

Archaic blade fragment

Archaic blade fragment

My friend Meg was picking me up at Tuckup Traihead and she had said she’d hike in to meet me. The last three miles are an old road and I was shooting for being on the road before I lost daylight. I really hoped I wasn’t going to have to try to navigate cairns in the dark. By this time I’d been hiking for 12 hours straight with very few breaks. I hit the road before I had to put my headlamp on- success!

Smiling because I am going to make it to the roadwalk before dark

Smiling because I am going to make it to the roadwalk before dark

Meg met me in the dark on the roadwalk, it was great to see her and we hiked the last bit under the Milky Way to the trailhead together. We were almost there when Meg stopped me in mid-sentence to look at the moonrise. It was the perfect end to the trip, a giant orange almost-full moon coming right out the side of Big Point. What a place. The next morning, we visited Toroweap Lookout with the classic view of Lava Falls 3000 feet below. It was a great end to my journey.

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Meg came all the way from Tucson to spend the night at Toroweap and take me back home- thanks Meg!

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End of the journey at Toroweap lookout

I so enjoyed the time I got to spend in the Canyon- the place is endlessly fascinating. I know that each section of my traverse of the length of the Canyon will come with its own challenges, it’s the price of admission to such a rugged and wild place. I’m already daydreaming about what section I plan on doing next.

If you haven’t already, please sign the petition to urge President Obama to designate the Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument that would expand the protection of the Grand Canyon against development, mining and other threats to this wonder of the world. Map of the proposed monument below, learn more at www.greatergrandcanyon.org.

GGCHNM_ValuesMap

GGCHNM_ValuesMap

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URGENT! COMMENT NOW to STOP the Escalade project that threatens to build a tram into the sacred confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. Comment on this proposal by Friday: http://www.navajonationcouncil.org/Legislatio…/…/0293-16.pdf

Digital comments may be e-mailed to comments@navajo-nsn.gov

Comments may be made in the form of chapter resolutions, letters, position papers, etc. Please include your name, position title, address for written comments; a valid e-mail address is required. Anonymous comments will not be included in the Legislation packet.

Please send this to all your friends around the world. Now is the time to make your voice heard! Learn more and sign the petition against the Escalade project here: www.savetheconfluence.com.

Little Colorado Confluence

Little Colorado and Colorado River Confluence

Here’s a video about the proposed project, thanks in advance for writing to comment!

 

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The piece of Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon between the Boucher and South Bass Trails is known as the Gems because the side canyons are named after precious stones. It’s got a narrow window of opportunity because the side canyons only run during certain months. Wendy the Permit Whisperer had gotten 5 nights starting on March 31st at South Bass and ending at Hermit and had invited me and three others to join her. I had been looking forward to this piece for a couple of reasons: it would connect my line from Tanner to Elves Chasm, it’s one of the more remote pieces of the Tonto, and I’d get to go backpacking with two of my favorite women, Wendy and India.
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Roger’s tent trailer was a welcome shelter from the cold!

We met up with John and spent a chilly night in Roger’s tent trailer the night before, camping in the forest outside the park. It was 11 degrees when we awoke at 5am to get packed and meet our shuttle. Tim Wilson met us at the Backcountry Office to shuttle us over 30 miles of dirt road to the South Bass Trailhead. We enjoyed swapping stories on the ride as Tim deftly maneuvered through the rutted road.

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Tim loading the packs up for the ride to South Bass

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South Bass Trailhead – me, Roger, India, Wendy and John

I hadn’t been on the South Bass Trail since my Royal Arch via Point Huitzil trip in 2011 and I was so excited to see the dome of Mount Huethawali below rising up from the Esplanade. We started down the trail, stopping briefly to look at the small granary. Took a break on the Esplanade to soak in the views, get a snack and look at maps.

South Bass to Emerald (2)

Granary

Esplanade Break

Snack break on the Esplanade with Mount Huethawali – Photo by India Hesse

 The walking on the Esplanade before it drops into the Supai is delightful- flat and fancy, lined with rocks to protect the precious cryptobiotic soil on either side. There were so many flowers in bloom and the types changed as we descended in elevation.

South Bass to Emerald (3)

Fancy Flat Esplanade

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Blooming Ceanothus

 We descended and traversed through the Supai to the Redwall break and switchbacked down to the canyon floor. We met a group of Canadians taking a break and as I walked up and said hi, one of the women asked, “Are you Sirena? I read your blog!” So nice to meet readers of the blog out in the Canyon! They had a fantastic itinerary for 13 days to Bright Angel but I didn’t envy their food carry. There were blooming Redbuds in the Redwall that matched Wendy perfectly and white Cliff Fendlerbush.

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Great spot for a rest – Photo by India Hesse

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Photo by India Hesse

South Bass to Emerald (6)

Wendy matches the blooming Redbuds

 The temperatures rose as we descended to the level of the Tonto Trail. We met a group at the ledges we’d stayed at in 2011 and one of the members recognized Wendy from the Arizona Backpacking Club. He introduced himself as Frank Feagans, and I recognized his name from the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association. After I introduced myself, he said that it was nice to meet me and that he started hiking the Arizona Trail because of me. How nice to hear!!

South Bass to Emerald (7)

What a place!

South Bass to Emerald (8)

Everything was blooming!

 We dropped our packs with Roger and hiked down to Bass Tanks for some much-needed water. It was getting hot and we were happy to finally reach the waterhole. After filtering, we had a hot little hike up the hill back to our packs and the turnoff to the Tonto Trail going East. I was so excited to put my feet on fresh trail I’d never seen before, heading to connect my line to Hermit.

South Bass to Emerald (10)

Wheeler Fold

South Bass to Emerald (9)

Getting some agua

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Bass Tanks – Photo by India Hesse

We contoured along Bass Canyon and decided since it looked like the weather was turning to make camp on a point instead of pushing into Serpentine Canyon.

South Bass to Emerald (11)

Looking downstream

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Pointing out landmarks to John – Photo by India Hesse

We found a spectacular spot and as we started to set up, the winds picked up and it started to rain. We wrestled with tarps and tents and then got situated as the hardest rains fell. I enjoyed my view out of my tarp of Holy Grail Temple.

South Bass to Emerald (12)

Holy Grail Temple and my Q-Twinn Tarp

 The rain let up and we emerged for dinner. John came around with hors d’oeuvers of oysters with mustard on crackers served on a Tapeats slab. We could see dramatic clouds across the way on the North Rim, and then around sunset we were treated to a 360 degree spectacle of rainbows, orange beams of light and snow on the distant North Rim. Unfortunately my photos came out blurry, luckily my companions captured the scene.

John serves hors d'ouvres on a Tapeats slab

John serves hors d’ouvres on a Tapeats slab

Rainbow

Outrageously good rainbow action- Photo by India Hesse

South Bass to Emerald (13)

Nighttime around the party lights

 There was a chance of rain so I kept the tarp up but slept under the stars. I was awoken several times by buzzing and it took me a bit to realize they were mosquitoes! So strange- that never happens in the Canyon.

We got going around 8am toward Serpentine, Tontouring up and down the rocky slopes toward the bed of the drainage. I felt great and hiked ahead for a bit, loving the feeling of being in my favorite place on a fresh piece of trail. I thought about my plan to traverse the whole Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to Pearce Ferry and where I should spend the month of October doing a big chunk.

South Bass to Emerald (14)

Mariposa

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Photo by India Hesse

There was plenty of running water in Serpentine Canyon, but we’d heard that it can cause intestinal distress. Nevertheless, several of us filtered an emergency backup liter just in case we needed it going toward Ruby, our next water source. Temperatures were heating up and the umbrellas came out. We hiked over to Emerald Canyon, lush with greenery and wildflowers of all colors. Only one more side canyon, Quartz, to go until Ruby.

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Photo by India Hesse

After contouring out of Emerald, I was hiking on a level piece of trail when all of a sudden I felt a “pop” in my left calf followed by pain. I hoped that it was just a cramp that electrolytes or maybe some massage would fix but when I tried to put weight on it going uphill, pain shot down my leg. Me and Wendy, India and Roger sat for a bit and tried an Ace bandage and some ibuprofen to see if it would help.

I hoped that the rest and wraps and meds would help. It didn’t. When I tried to walk on it, even with a lighter pack, my leg was painful and weak on the uphills. Not a good position to be in deep in a canyon. The rim loomed ominously far above. Even if I backtracked, I’d have to hike out at some point. Frank, who I’d met the day before, was with another group and said the exact same thing had happened to him in December on the Arizona Trail. He offered some K tape and sincere condolences.

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Realizing my trip is over.

We came to a flat spot and I had to face the truth: I couldn’t go on and  was going to have to use the SOS function on my InReach satellite communicator. 8 years I’ve been carrying a satellite communicator and never had to push the button. I was so glad to be able to text the SOS dispatch and tell them the nature of the emergency, so the rescuers knew what to expect when they got there.

The dispatch texted back to say they were on their way. We didn’t know how long it would take, but had an incredible spot to wait, fluffy clouds and Canyon views all around. John, the last one in our party, had gone ahead but backtracked after waiting for us and was surprised and sad at the turn of events. Things can change so quickly- one minute all is wonderful and you’re hiking through the Canyon feeling like you’ve just won the lottery, and the next- pain and despair and the end of the trip.

Only one hour later, we heard the sound of the helicopter and we waved a shiny piece of reflectix to show them where we were. It was incredible to see the helicopter maneuver into the landing spot on the Tonto Plateau.IMG_4254

Waving down the helicopter – Photo By India Hesse

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Landing on the Tonto

Marcos came out first to assess the landing spot and check in with me to see how I was doing. We were marveling at the flying expertise required to fly and land in the Canyon when just like a movie, the pilot took off the helmet to reveal a beautiful blond woman who introduced herself as Heather.

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Heather, my awesome pilot

Medic Drew listened to my story and looked at my leg. I felt bad having to call for help, but really there was nothing I could have done to avoid the injury. I thanked all of the rescuers profusely for putting their lives at risk to come get me.

I gave good-bye hugs to my hiking companions and got suited up to go for my very first helicopter ride in the Canyon. I’ve always wanted to see the Canyon from a helicopter- but I thought it would be part of a tour. Heather lifted off and away we went, traveling over the same path that my next 4 days would have covered. As sad as I was to be injured and leaving the trip, the ride was so exciting- seeing the Colorado River rapids, side canyons and temples of the Canyon from a different perspective is always welcome, no matter what the circumstance.

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Saying Goodbye – Photo by India Hesse

 

Leaving the rest of my party on the Tonto

Leaving the rest of my party on the Tonto

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Looking downstream

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Scorpion Ridge

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Granite Rapid

The helicopter eventually gained altitude and just like that, I was above the rim and landing at the airport in Tusayan. Trip over. What a strange turn of events- just hours ago I was walking deep in the Canyon, and now I was back at the Rim with all the tourists. Ranger Scott gave me a ride to the village and I took the next shuttle to Flagstaff.

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Marcos, me in an oversized flight suit, Drew and Heather

I am so grateful for my hiking companions Wendy, India, Roger and John for being supportive and hope that they enjoyed the rest of their days hiking to Hermit. Nothing but the highest regard and appreciation for Drew Yamamoto, Marcos Escobedo, Ranger Scott and especially pilot Heather Sour for getting me out of there safely. Also thanks to Sarah for a place to stay in Flagstaff and to Li and Jerolyn for the ride to Phoenix, where Brian picked me up.

My DeLorme InReach turned what could have been a lengthy wait for help into a timely extraction. A million thanks to Leigh Anne and Dr. Denny Thrasher, who donated the InReach to me for my 2014 thru-hike.

I went to the doctor four days after it happened, nervously awaiting the diagnosis. It was just as I suspected: a partial tear of the medial gastrocnemius muscle. No hiking for 6 weeks and I will have to do some physical therapy to rehab it. I’m also wearing a very attractive compression sleeve that goes all the way up to my thigh.

I was supposed to take my brother Shawn and his girlfriend Sarah on their first backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon for a four-day trip, hiking in on April 11. Instead I had to get them ready and send them off on their own.

This hike was going to connect a line for me from the Tanner Trail to Elves Chasm, looks like it will have to wait for a return trip.

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I’m not sure how it got to be almost April without a blog post, but I’m back! So much to catch up on, I’ve been traveling all over the place for work and play. For more frequent updates, follow me on Instagram at @desertsirena.

Looking down on the big pouroff

One of my recent adventures –  Jackass Canyon

I love taking my friends and family to see the Grand Canyon for the first time.  While on a trip in Olympic National Park last year, I found out that my friend Grant had never backpacked in the Canyon before and I said I’d enjoy being the one to remedy that problem. Things lined up for me to hike into the Grand Canyon on my birthday, February 16th, for two nights in Clear Creek with a night at Bright Angel Campground on either side. We invited Ryan from Maine, who I’d met in Moab last year, and hoped for good weather.

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The route we took – map courtesy of Wilderness Vagabond

We stayed in Tusayan and got a leisurely start after catching up at breakfast with my friend Li Brannfors, who Ryan (aka Guthook) had met on the Appalachian Trail many years ago. Temperatures had been unseasonably hot, yet there was a thick coating of ice on the upper parts of the South Kaibab in the shade of the chimney. Glad to have traction for the short distance, soon the trail was on the ridge in the sun. Always great to be back on the Arizona Trail!

Mule Train on the South Kaibab

Best location I can think of for my birthday!

 We timed it just right for the hike down, many parts were in the shade and it was one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve had on the Kaibab. Perfect weather for a birthday hike. So fun to see the guys react to the enormity of it all and ever-changing beauty of each turn of the trail.  Ryan was able to see the Guthook’s Guides Arizona Trail App that he developed in the field for the first time. I can’t recommend it enough, it’s such a game-changing resource for the AZT.

Kaibab Tunnel

We got a campsite by Bright Angel Creek, the cottonwoods were just starting to sport tiny green nubs. Ryan and Grant turned in after dinner, but not me- I had plans.

The moon was getting close to full and I took my camera and did my thing, visiting the beach and the bridges. This is one of my favorite shots of the trip.

Black Bridge at Night

 

Nighttime at Boat Beach

After a late night roaming the canyon and a leisurely start, we headed out to Clear Creek. I had only dayhiked a part of this trail while staying at Bright Angel. New terrain makes me giddy!

The CCC built the Clear Creek Trail to an amazing standard- it’s always fun to have people along who can geek out over a beautifully built wall or switchback. The trail passed the Great Unconformity- a place where over a billion years of time are missing between the Tapeats Sandstone and Vishnu Schist rock layers. Hard to wrap your head around geologic time, even when it’s staring you in the face.

The Great Unconformity


The Clear Creek Trail has spectacular views of many of the temples and buttes of the Canyon, but one stands above the rest: Zoroaster. It is one of  my favorite landmarks and the trail takes a tour around it. I must have five million pictures of that sexy Coconino-capped peak.

After Tontouring in and out of Bradley and Demaray points, we crossed Zoroaster Canyon. Then there was a traverse above the Clear Creek drainage that had great views of Wotan’s Throne and Angel’s Gate before descending into the canyon.

Photo by Ryan Linn

 

Descent into Clear Creek

We set up near the creek and the mice were almost immediately a nuisance. I did some photography before bed, the moon was so bright that it made the long exposures look like daytime.

The forecast was for a slight chance of rain at night and a 30% chance for the following day. The wind picked up and howled through the canyon, defeating any chances of sleep. Morning came and none of us had gotten much rest. We were supposed to have a layover day of exploring Clear Creek. That didn’t sound like much fun with the crazy wind. One day I’ll come back and explore upstream to Cheyava Falls- Grand Canyon’s largest at 800ft.  (only runs sometimes), and downstream to the sideways waterfall and the Colorado River.

Clear Creek Waterfall

Visiting the Clear Creek sideways waterfall while working on a river trip

A lone runner carrying a tiny pack visited our camp, having run from Phantom that morning. He said the winds were worse on the plateau. After a bit of small talk, we found that he was from the town right near where Ryan had grown up in Maine and that they knew the same people. Big Canyon, small world.

It was raining and still very windy. Unfortunate conditions for a layover. We decided to hike out and find a camp closer to Bright Angel to shorten up our next day. The winds were outrageous!! I kept getting pushed to the side, precariously close to prickly pear cactus and sharp-tipped agave.

 The hike back went quickly and we decided to stay on some ledges beneath Zoro in Sumner Wash which were mercifully out of the wind. I had a snack and took off to explore downstream before it got dark. I followed the canyon through the Tapeats and into the schist to pools in pink Zoroaster granite. There are few things I enjoy more than a new side canyon and this was a beauty.

Goat cheese, dehydrated olive tapenade, pepperoni and bacon

 

Zoroaster Temple

 

Vishnu Schist (black) and Zoroaster Granite (pink) pouroff

Did some night photography with Zoro before sleeping on a Tapeats ledge. The moon was outrageously bright and I had to cover my eyes to get any rest.

 The next day was a short jaunt back over to Bright Angel Campground and we took our time savoring the views from the Tonto Platform before hiking down into the canyon. The river looked like chocolate milk from the runoff of the recent rains. Early arrivals of spring wildflowers dotted the landscape.

  

Micro Chicken

The rest of the day was spent lounging about at the cantina, on Boat Beach and at the picnic table under the cottonwood by the turn into Bright Angel Creek.
  The last location was fascinating- it was Friday and a constant parade of backpackers and folks staying at Phantom Ranch streamed by. Grant is the owner of Gossamer Gear and was interested to see what kind of gear people were bringing. Needless to say, most of them did not subscribe to a lightweight philosophy and generally looked miserable as they came into the campground. I can relate, I was one of those people on my first hike down here  in 2001.

After the backpacker parade, it was time for stew dinner at the Phantom Ranch Cantina, a welcome treat after 4 days in the Canyon. The guys went to bed and as usual, I hiked around in the evening, then went to sleep on my preferred place in the campground, the picnic table.

 The next morning we readied for our hike out and got the usual leisurely start after I visited Ranger Della to say hi. It was so nice and cool out and the hike to Indian Gardens was pleasant. We all converged on Indian Gardens for lunch and even though I ate plenty and was drinking lots of water, I felt way more tired than I should have.

Photo by Ryan Linn

The next bit to the 3-mile house dragged on and I told Ryan to go ahead and I’d meet him up top. I took a good break with my feet up and had some Emergen-c. That was the missing piece of the puzzle and I immediately felt better. It had been so cool that I’d not been keeping up with my electrolytes, which made me tired.

Photo by Ryan Linn

The rest of the hike was great, even on a Saturday there weren’t a ton of people on the trail, probably kept away by the solid ice on the trail above the 1 1/2 mile rest house. I reached the rim in good spirits and enjoyed hearing Grant and Ryan’s experiences of the hike out the Bright Angel Trail. We went to Li’s house where we were greeted with tasty beverages and slow-cooker chili. A great end to a fantastic time in the Canyon.

Can’t I just stay here? Photo by Grant Sible

This trip didn’t get me any miles toward my goal of hiking the length of the Grand Canyon, but any time in the Canyon is well spent. My next trip from South Bass to Hermit in April will close the remaining gap for me between the Tanner Trail and Elves Chasm. And in October, I will be hiking a month-long piece of the Canyon and I’m currently trying to figure out the specifics of where I will spend my time. I look forward to each and every step, no matter how challenging.

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