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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.

Map-GC-Clear-Creek

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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The tagline of my blog is “Exploring the Beauty of Arizona’s Wild Places”, but a couple of weekends ago I got to visit Moab, Utah for a special outing with fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors. I have been a Trail Ambassador since last February and have enjoyed being a part of a group that inspires others through their love of the outdoors. It’s fun to read other Ambassadors blogs and see what adventures they are up to. Part of being an ambassador was getting my Mariposa backpack that I have used since my Arizona Trail Trek. It’s now my go-to pack and this weekend I got to try out another smaller pack for dayhiking, the Type 2 Utility Backpack. Before I arrived in Utah, I had a couple stops to make- the first was the Grand Canyon National Geographic Visitor Center to see the Arizona Trail promo on the IMAX screen. It was amazing to see it so large and know that so many people were going to learn about the Arizona Trail while waiting to see their movie. Then it was on to Page for two Arizona Trail presentations, one at Glen Canyon Visitor Center and one for the Page City Council. Both went very well and the City of Page is very enthusiastic about being a part of the Gateway Community Program.

Lone Rock Beach

Lone Rock Beach, Lake Powell

After my Arizona Trail work was done, I made my way to Moab, taking the scenic route through Monument Valley.

Agathla Peak

Agathla Peak

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

I had the following day to kill before most of the Ambassadors arrived in Utah, so I went on a hike on the Devil’s Garden Trail in Arches National Park. This trail, the longest in the park, takes you to 8 arches in 7 miles. It was a chilly but beautiful day with patches of white snow and ice on the red rock. It made me happy to have my microspikes for the slippery parts.

AZT Mobile in Utah

AZT Mobile in Utah

Navajo Arch

Navajo Arch

Arches - Devil's Garden

Arches – Devil’s Garden

Partition Arch

Partition Arch

Micro Chicken getting eaten by the crazy rock

Micro Chicken getting eaten by the crazy rock

After an incredible sunset at Balanced Rock, I headed to the Moab Retreat House to meet the other Trail Ambassadors. What a group- some of the most well-known names in hiking and all with fantastic stories to tell.

La Sal Mountain Sunset

La Sal Mountain Sunset

Sunset at Balanced Rock

Sunset at Balanced Rock

The next morning, we headed to the Gold Bar Canyon-Jeep Arch-Culvert Canyon loop. It was a wonderful hike that included scrambling through slickrock drainages to Jeep Arch.

Hello Colorado River!

Hello Colorado River!

Scrambling up the canyon

Scrambling up the canyon

Hiking the slickrock toward Jeep Arch

Hiking the slickrock toward Jeep Arch

Approaching Jeep Arch

Approaching Jeep Arch

Disco strikes a pose

Disco from The Trail Show strikes a pose

Slickrock perch

Slickrock perch

We then climbed on slanted slabs up to the Gold Bar Rim for superlative views of the Colorado River below.

Heart-shaped linked tinajas

Heart-shaped linked tinajas

Gold Bar Rim Pano

Gold Bar Rim Pano

Twinkle living on the edge

Twinkle living on the edge

A cairned route looped us back to the car via Culvert Canyon. Trail Ambassador Will Rietveld, ultralight guru and expert in the Moab area, led all the hikes. It was so nice to be able to follow someone and not have to navigate for a change. We had a little daylight left, so some of us went back to Arches and hiked the Windows Trail before going back to Balanced Rock for sunset. Touristy but still very pleasant. I love how anything that is not a rock-lined trail in Arches is called “primitive” and comes with stern warnings.

Balanced Rock Sunset

Sunset at Balanced Rock

Turret Arch

Turret Arch

The next day, we went to the Needles District of Canyonlands, and hiked the Lost Canyon to Peekaboo Trail. We had hoped to go to Peekaboo Spring, but were stopped by an uninviting icy traverse along sloping slickrock.

Needles District, Canyonlands

Needles District, Canyonlands

Bearclaw descends the ladder

Bearclaw descends the ladder

Dirtmonger and Bearclaw

Dirtmonger and Bearclaw, who got married on the PCT last summer

Slickrock Snorkel

Slickrock Snorkel

Granaries

Granaries

Icy in the shady spots

Icy in the shady spots

I didn’t care where we ended up, as long as I was enjoying the outdoors with new friends. The landscape was dotted with gorgeous tinajas- slickrock pockets full of water after recent rains. The other Trail Ambassadors, most from cool, wet climates probably couldn’t understand my giddiness over such a small amount of agua. Grant Sible, president of Gossamer Gear, joined us and it was so nice to meet him and Glen Van Peski, who founded the company. There was an international contingent as well- Tomo from Japan who owns an ultralight backpacking store in Tokyo, Hiker’s Depot. I sent some Arizona Trail maps back to Japan with him.

Tinajas

Tinajas

Loving exploring Canyonlands- I need to come backpacking here!

Loving exploring Canyonlands- I need to come backpacking here!

Me and Grant Sible

Me and Grant Sible

One of the best parts of the weekend was getting to talk trails with others who are just as obsessed as I am. We kept intersecting parts of the Hayduke Trail and geeked out with the guidebook, trying to figure out where it ran in the area. Plans for adventures big and small were discussed and tips and tricks exchanged. It was a fantastic experience. I really enjoyed the fact that there were so many women represented, including Heather “Anish” Anderson, who has the PCT unsupported speed record and Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, who has the Appalachian Trail unsupported speed record. Always inspiring to meet ladies who kick ass! In the evening, some people asked me if I had a presentation with me about the Arizona Trail. Of course- that’s what I do for a living! I got to give my full slideshow and I’m pretty sure I left some people dreaming of future thru-hikes of the AZT. I even got a mention on the latest episode of The Trail Show (at about 52:00). There were two more days of Ambassador fun, and Outdoor Retailer after that, but I had to leave in order to be home on the 20th for my husband’s birthday. No missing that date, no matter how much I wished I could hike some more! I took the scenic route back through the Grand Canyon and met Levi Davis, the wonderful videographer who produced the promo, so that he could see his work on the IMAX screen. It was fun to watch it again with him. Levi is so incredibly talented, I highly recommend him.

Me and Levi at the Arizona Trail Exhibit

Me and Levi Davis at the Arizona Trail Exhibit

If you’d like to see the Ambassador exploits on Instagram, search the tag #GGUtahAdventures for a real treat! I’m now on IG @desertsirena. I look forward to more outings with this fantastic bunch! I may even plan a Trail Ambassador outing in my neck of the desert. In Wildlife Rehab news, I got called in to fly a Red-Tailed Hawk who’s recovering from an injured wing. Got some distance, needs to be flown some more to rehab the wing.

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Donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Flying a Red-Tailed Hawk

Flying a Red-Tailed Hawk- why is it looking at me like that?

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