Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Gossamer Gear’

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, sorry- I couldn’t manage to figure out the formatting so you’ll have to scroll.

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).

DSC06593

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.

DSC06371

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.

DSC06266

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.

DSC06276

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.

DSC06369

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.

DSC06708

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!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

It’s time for the annual look back on my adventures, thanks to all who continue to read along! I haven’t updated the blog as much recently, and putting this retrospective together I can see why- it certainly was a busy year. If you’d like more frequent updates on my wanderings, follow me on Instagram at @desertsirena.

I started out the year leading a hike on the Arizona Trail for the BEYOND Tucson event that celebrates community, health and the outdoors to commemorate the people affected by the Safeway shootings in 2011.

Emily Nottingham at the Gabe Zimmerman Memorial

Emily Nottingham at the Gabe Zimmerman Memorial

I went snowshoeing on Mount Lemmon for the first time with my friend Leigh Anne. It was tougher than I had expected and a fun change of pace.

dsc03395

Snowshoeing Mount Lemmon

Introducing Roscoe to hiking and camping has been a delight- he’s quite the rock hopper and absolutely adorable!

Roscoe

Roscoe

img_3791

Roscoe and Petroglyphs, Tortolita Mountains

February started out with a very cold backpacking trip with the Donkeybelles on one of my favorite parts of the Arizona Trail from Picketpost Trailhead to Kelvin. Temps got down to 20 degrees and even Jasmine the Mini-Donkey was chilly!

Jasmine approaches the high saddle

Jasmine approaches the high saddle

Last year, I made the decision to spend more time at the Grand Canyon and commit myself to section-hiking the length of it. I hiked in on my 42nd birthday for a five day trip with friends who had never been to the Canyon before. It was the most amazing way to spend my birthday and I took one of my favorite pictures of all time that night on the Black Bridge. We spent two days in the Clear Creek area before hiking back to Bright Angel and out. When I returned, Brian, Roscoe and I spent a day in Catalina State Park to celebrate.

IMG_3974

Birthday night fun on the Black Bridge

IMG_4020-0

Zoroaster Temple

The wildflowers were pretty good this year and I got some quality time for photography near Kelvin and Superior. I also led a hike for the Legends of Superior Trails Fest where I got this awesome shot of a horseback rider and her dog.dsc04085dsc04424

In March, I organized the first annual Arizona Trail Days in Page and took the opportunity to do some exploring around Marble Canyon. I hiked Jackass Canyon and camped on the rim.

Looking down on the big pouroff

Looking down on the big pouroff in Jackass Canyon

Badger Rapid

Badger Rapid

I hiked the first three days of the Arizona Trail with Warrior Expeditions, a program that helps veterans with PTSD “walk off the war” by putting them on long-distance trails. It was awesome to meet them at the Utah border two months later. I also participated in a webinar panel for American Trails on outdoor programs for veterans.

IMG_4451

Warrior Expeditions – Arizona Trail nearing the Utah border

At the end of the month, I hiked into the Grand Canyon again for a 6-day trip from South Bass to Hermit that would connect my line from Tanner to Elves Chasm. That didn’t quite go as planned…

Rainbow

Rainbow – Photo by India Hesse

April 1st started out great, I woke up in the Canyon and was feeling strong. We hiked the Tonto Trail, weaving in and out of drainages. I was on a flat part of the trail when all of a sudden I felt a “pop” in my left calf muscle. Unfortunately, I had a partial tear of the muscle that prevented me from hiking uphill. After some evaluation, I decided to press the SOS button on my DeLorme InReach for evacuation. It was astounding how quickly they responded- the helicopter was there only an hour after getting the call from dispatch.

IMG_4205

This is my sad face because my trip is over and I’m waiting for the helicopter

IMG_4211

At least the views from the chopper were spectacular! Scorpion Ridge at left.

I was told that I needed to be off the leg for six weeks before I could hike again, and thus began the long road to recovery. I had to first rest, then build the muscle back up while making sure that there wasn’t a bunch of scar tissue. I found solace in the fact that the outdoors didn’t need to be epic to be enjoyable.

IMG_4420

Riding with Carrie in the Santa Ritas

One of my favorite characters I wrote an article about this year was Jack Mahler, first person to unicycle the Arizona Trail. Yes, I said unicycle!IMG_4292-0

At the end of April I was feeling up to a short hike to meet my friends Bonnie and Lynn as they finished their section-ride of the Arizona Trail. So proud of these two, Bonnie is the oldest woman to complete the trail and Lynn is the only person to have ridden the AZT twice!

IMG_4385

Lynn and Bonnie on their last mile

In May, I got to support a group who had won a contest with Sierra Magazine for a backpacking trip on the Arizona Trail south of the Grand Canyon. The purpose of the trip was to research threats to the Canyon such as development, mining and deforestation to highlight them for a future article. We met with many groups that are trying to protect it including the Sierra Club’s Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument campaign, Save the Confluence and Grand Canyon Trust as well as officials from Grand Canyon National Park. I was supposed to backpack with them, but my leg wasn’t up to it yet so I was the support crew and then took them on a couple of short dayhikes at the Canyon. If you haven’t already, please head over and sign the petition for President Obama to create the Monument at www.greatergrandcanyon.org. The Sierra Magazine article will be out next year and you can see a preview of the trip here.

IMG_4440

Renae Yellowhorse from Save the Confluence

IMG_4471

South Kaibab Sunset

IMG_4491-0

Starry night at Grandview with author Jason Mark

In June the heat was outrageous so I headed either for places with higher elevations, water or both. Roscoe and I hiked the Marshall-Aspen loop and saw a bear!

image12

Hammock Dog

dsc06168

Oracle Ridge Sunset

I put in for an ambitious Grand Canyon permit for 23 days in October and got the itinerary I wanted. Now I was really going to have to train and get me and my leg in shape! I joined the local YMCA and spent a lot of time training in the pool and with weights. I also took up dancing two times a week.

Work travels took me to Pine and I camped on the Mogollon Rim at Milk Ranch Point after making a stop to feed the baby goats at Fossil Creek Creamery.

Fossil Creek Creamery Kid

Fossil Creek Creamery Kid

At the end of the month I decided it was time to take the leg for its first backpacking trip into Aravaipa Canyon’s East entrance for two nights. The scenery was sublime, the heat was bearable, the bugs were awful. But we saw fireflies so it was all worth it!

IMG_4643

Aravaipa Canyon

IMG_4642

Aravaipa Camp

IMG_4631

Night time in Aravaipa

By July it had been four months since my injury and I tested it with a trip up Mount Wrightson, which went great! Love that peak.

dsc06720

Feels so good to have made it up the 4000 ft climb up Wrightson – my first big hike since injuring my leg in April

I went to the Grand Canyon after working in Flagstaff and caught some great photos of the Fuller Fire that raged on the North Rim.

Looking at the Fuller Fire on the North Rim from the Grandview Trail

Fuller Fire from Grandview Trail

Finally found time to hike Red Mountain on the way back from the Canyon- what a wonderful place that is! Great rock formations and volcanic landscape.

Red Mountain

Red Mountain

I did some travel outside of Arizona in August- first to Salt Lake City to attend the Outdoor Retailer trade show. What a whirlwind of gear, food, and adventurous folks- I loved it! Got a short hike in at Cecret Lake.

dsc07051

Cecret Lake Trail

Later in the month, I presented at the Local First Arizona Rural Policy Forum in Pinetop on the economic benefits of trails. Camped during the Perseid meteor shower and got this fun long-exposure shot:

Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid Meteor Shower

I canyoneered down Willow Canyon in the Catalinas with some friends, always a special thing to rappel through rainbows down waterfalls.

Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon 3rd Rappel

Tried my hand at storm-chasing during the monsoons in search of a good lightning shot. After many many tries, I got this gem- it took my breath away when I saw it for the first time!dsc07211

I did a series of talks about the Arizona Trail at the four Chicago-area REI locations during a trip to visit my family. It was fun to expose new people to the trail, connect with folks I hadn’t seen in years and for my family to see what I do. Got some kayaking in on Lake Michigan and the Fox River.

image2

Kayaking Lake Michigan with Kristin, my closest friend for 38 years

In September I was in Flagstaff organizing Arizona Trail Days weekend and went on a short hike to see the gorgeous yellow carpet of flowers.

Mormon Lake Flowers

Mormon Lake Flowers

I did a shakedown hike on the Canada del Oro – Red Ridge loop to test out my gear for my big trip and a friend of mine placed my cache buckets in the Canyon during a river trip. After October, they were picked up by two other river trips. I am so fortunate to have the Canyon community to help plan and execute my section hike of the Canyon.

Bucket Caches

Bucket Caches

View from Red Ridge

Looking down the overgrown Red Ridge with the Reef of Rock to the left and Oracle Ridge to the right

October was all about the Grand Canyon! What was supposed to be 23 straight days ended up being one 8-day and one week long trip. It was just good to be out in such a remote area, seeing new parts of this endlessly fascinating place. I can’t wait to see more.

Scarlet Monkeyflower

Scarlet Monkeyflower in Kanab Creek

Flipoff Route rim exit with bonus ominous bighorn skull

Flipoff Route

dsc00600

Full Moon and The Dome

BIG pothole under Big Point

BIG pothole under Big Point

It was a real treat to be there for the finish of Heather “Anish” Anderson’s Fastest Known Time on the Arizona Trail. She completed the whole 800 miles in just 19 days, 7 hours and 9 minutes. What an accomplishment! Read an article about it that I wrote for Gossamer Gear’s blog here.

Anish FKT Finish

Anish Finishes the AZT FKT!

Sadly, Roscoe came down with Parvovirus and almost died, despite having been current on his vaccinations. We had to administer subcutaneous fluids at home and he didn’t eat for over a week. Thankfully, he made a complete recovery, but it was a really tough 10 days.

In November I chased fall colors in Ash Creek in the Galiuro Mountains and was rewarded with a rainbow of maples!

Happy to be in the maples!

Happy to be in the maples!

The One by Gossamer Gear

The One by Gossamer Gear

Roscoe and I went on our first backpacking trip together, just a couple of miles into the Tortolitas on Thanksgiving.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Roscoe’s first backpacking trip!

Toward the end of the month, I wasn’t feeling quite right. I was tired and my muscles were really sore and sensitive. It took me a while to realize that I was having a fibromyalgia flare. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the neurotransmitters, I hadn’t had a flare in 10 years. I am still feeling the effects but I am trying to stay active and positive and hope that it will pass soon. No picture to illustrate it, because it is an invisible condition.

December brought me to the town of Cottonwood to do a presentation on economic benefits of trails and advise them on their trails master plan. It was my first time representing Trails Inspire, my new consulting company for trails and communities. I am very excited about this new venture and am in the process of launching the website and social media sites. I will forever appreciate the five years I spent working for the Arizona Trail Association as their Gateway Community Liaison and I am very proud of how the trail has grown in popularity and been embraced by the communities as a result of my work. I will still be working to promote trails through my writing and public speaking as well as consulting communities on how best to connect their residents and visitors to the outdoors.

Old Town Jail Trail, Cottonwood

Old Town Jail Trail, Cottonwood

I took one last trip to the Grand Canyon with my dad and my nephew Gage and the first thing he said was, “I want to go down there- can we come back and go backpacking?” Music to my ears! Saw one of the most spectacular sunsets ever from Desert View, click to enlarge the photo to get the full effect.

desert-view-sunset-grand-canyon

Desert View Sunset, Grand Canyon

To cap the year off, I went on a Christmas hike with Brian, Gage and Roscoe near Catalina and hiked the Sabino-Bear Canyon loop with rushing water and an impressive flow at 7 Falls.

Feeling Festive

Feeling Festive!

dsc00304

Brian and Me

West Fork and Cathedral

West Fork Sabino Canyon and Cathedral Rock

7 Falls

7 Falls

The coming year is going to be an exciting one and I am looking forward to more time working on my section hike through the Grand Canyon and my new business venture. Big thanks to all the folks I’ve hiked with this year, my husband Brian and parents for being so supportive, to Gossamer Gear for providing me with gear for my adventures and to my readers and followers on social media. Happy New Year to all!

Read Full Post »

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.
IMG_4242

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.

IMG_4244

Tim loading the packs up for the ride to South Bass

South Bass to Emerald (1)

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

South Bass to Emerald (4)

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.

IMG_4246

Great spot for a rest – Photo by India Hesse

IMG_4247

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

IMG_4248

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

IMG_4249

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

IMG_4251

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.

IMG_4252

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.

IMG_4205

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

IMG_4197

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.

IMG_4198

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.

IMG_4253

Saying Goodbye – Photo by India Hesse

 

Leaving the rest of my party on the Tonto

Leaving the rest of my party on the Tonto

IMG_4208

Looking downstream

IMG_4211

Scorpion Ridge

IMG_4209

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.

IMG_4210

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

It’s that time of year again for a retrospective of my travels, let’s see where I wandered in 2015! If you’re a regular reader of the blog, don’t worry, I’ve added a lot of new pics from hikes that didn’t get a write up. Click on the links to open the post in a new tab.

January

I started the year out with a snowy hike on the Arizona Trail up to the High Jinks Ranch in Oracle.

Snowy American Flag Trailhead

Snowy American Flag Trailhead

Explored some peaks and ridges near Gordon Hirabayashi Campground:

Great spot for a break

Great spot for a break

Met with other Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors for some dayhiking near Moab. Loved the slickrock and big views and the company was wonderful!

Sandstone Fin and La Sal Mountains

Sandstone Fin and La Sal Mountains

Hiking the slickrock toward Jeep Arch

Hiking the slickrock toward Jeep Arch

Tinajas

Tinajas

Bagged a Cat in the Tucson Mountains:

IMG_2326

Spine of Cat Mountain

In addition, I went on a speaking tour about my Arizona Trail Trek that took me to outdoor stores, hiking clubs and community groups across Arizona. I did 10 talks in under 6 weeks!

February

Took a backpacking trip in the foothills north of Catalina State Park on the Baby Jesus Trail and some unnamed routes.

DSC01010

Love those Arizona sunsets!

DSC01095

Backpacking in the Catalina Foothills

Spent my birthday hiking the Sweetwater Preserve with Brian.

DSC01288

Sweetwater Preserve

DSC01320

Brian out on the trail

Backpacked a  loop in the Tortolita Mountains and got to experience the awesome Ridgeline Trail.

Sweeping curves of the Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

Sweeping curves of the Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

March

Chased Wildflowers on the Arizona Trail from Pickepost to Kelvin, one of my favorite pieces of all. Did some trail maintenance to my passage in the process.

Gila River Canyons

Gila River Canyons

Hiking through the poppy-covered hillsides

Hiking through the poppy-covered hillsides near Dale’s Butte

Battling spiny plants

Battling spiny plants

Hiked the Arizona Trail from Mexico to Patagonia with Warrior Hike, a nonprofit that puts veterans on the National Scenic Trails for therapeutic purposes.

Miller Peak Junction at 9050 ft.

Warrior Hike- Arizona Trail/Miller Peak Junction at 9050 ft.

April

The end of March and beginning of April were tough. In 10 days I lost both my father-in-law and my old dog Bailey.

Bailey and Zeus

Bailey and Zeus- both gone but the great memories will live in my heart forever.

My 18-year old nephew Chase visited Arizona from Michigan and I got to take him to the Grand Canyon for his first hike. He’s hooked and can’t wait to come back.DSC02278

And then there was the time I stepped on a rattlesnake and lived to tell the tale (thank goodness it was a cold snake!):

Rattlesnake!

Rattlesnake!

My buddy Bill and his dog Bella and I did the Wilderness of Rocks Loop in the Catalinas. That was one happy water-soaked Lab!

DSC02798.JPG

Love the Wilderness of Rock! Photo by Bill Bens

May

I joined Warrior Hike in the Grand Canyon and enjoyed showing my favorite place to the veterans in the program.

A perfect day for a hike- 7 miles and 4700 ft. down to Phantom Ranch

A perfect day for a hike- 7 miles and 4700 ft. down the South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch

A perfect day.

A perfect day.

Fun with headlamps!

Fun with headlamps!

The International Trails Symposium was held in Portland and I was part of a presentation about outdoor therapies for veterans. I took some time to explore the area and backpacked from Eagle Creek to Whatum Lake and down to Cascade Locks on the Pacific Crest Trail. A gorgeous loop filled with waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. My favorite part was carrying a mere half-liter of water, what a concept for a desert rat!

DSC03298

Presenting at the International Trails Symposium about my work with Warrior Hike

Tunnel Falls- a magnificent place to be!

Tunnel Falls- a magnificent place to be!

Into the Mist

Into the Mist

Ducklings at Trillium Lake

Ducklings at Trillium Lake

June

Time once again for river season with Arizona River Runners– I decided that this would be my last summer guiding. I will forever cherish the time I got to take people hiking and boating and teach people about the Canyon.

Lee's Ferry Sunrise

Lee’s Ferry Sunrise

Redwall Cavern

Redwall Cavern

I got a fun little hike in to O’Neill Crater near the ARR warehouse, complete with a small cliff dwelling and tons of rooms and pottery.

Walls on the summit

Walls on the summit

IMG_2815

My friend Carrie was nice enough to teach me how to ride a horse and we took her Arabians out on the Arizona Trail.

Viewpoint on the ridgetop

Viewpoint on the ridgetop above Oak Tree Canyon

At the end of the month, little Stu joined our family. It sure was empty without any animals in the house!DSC00038.JPG

July

More river trips and horseback riding. I got to ride on the Las Colinas passage of the AZT, a piece I had helped build. Such a different perspective riding high on a horse!

Riding Las Colinas

Riding Las Colinas

August

I had my last trip of the season on the river, bittersweet to leave. I will miss living in the Grand Canyon, sleeping on the beaches of the Colorado River. I plan on devoting time to exploring more on foot.

Redwall Cavern

Redwall Cavern

I put a GIF together (sorry it’s a little choppy) from a bunch of pictures that were taken from the other boat of me driving Hermit Rapid at 22,000 cfs – watch the 35-foot boat disappear into the massive waves!

Hermit Rapid 22,000 cfs

DSC00560

Cheering at the end of Hermit Rapid at 22,000 cfs, the most fun on the whole river!

Giving an archaeology talk at the Whitmore Pictographs

Giving an archaeology talk at the Whitmore Pictographs

At the Local First Arizona Rural Policy Forum, I participated in a well-attended presentation about trails and communities. It’s so great for me to see how the idea of trails as an economic driver for small towns has really become popular in Arizona. It’s a big part of my Gateway Community Program that I’ve developed since 2011 for the Arizona Trail. I got to paddle the Verde River near Clarkdale and had a wonderful time on the water.

Taking a break to enjoy the view upstream

Taking a break to enjoy the view upstream

Summer is the time to head for the high country and I did a hike on the Aspen Draw in the Catalinas with my friends Silver and Leigh Anne and her mini-donkey Jasmine.

DSC00947 - Copy

Jasmine, Leigh Anne and Silver on the Aspen Draw Trail

August 15th, the hottest day of the year- it hit 110 in Tucson but I stayed  cool canyoneering the 7 Cataracts of Willow Canyon. Russ and I took our time and spent the whole day rappelling, scrambling and swimming. So glad I finally got to see this beautiful canyon.

Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon- photo by Russ Newberg

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Russ on the 3rd rappel in Willow Canyon

Took a hike on the Arizona Trail down Oracle Ridge, which was covered in wildflowers from the abundant rains.

Oracle Ridge

Oracle Ridge/AZT

September

I went to Chicago for a visit with family and paddled the Kishwaukee River- we saw a bald eagle fly downstream right overhead!

IMG_3008

Paddling the Kishwaukee River

We had a very successful Arizona Trail Day weekend in Flagstaff and had the Arizona premiere of the movie Unbranded. I highly recommend it, the story of 4 men and 16 mustangs who ride from Mexico to Canada. They used the Arizona Trail for part of their journey and the cinematography is incredible.Unbranded Grand Canyon

Back to Portland for the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West 20th Annual Gathering, but first I joined Grant Sible from Gossamer Gear and friends for a 4-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park. We hit fall colors on the High Divide Loop- a tour of alpine lakes and rainforest.

Mount Carrie

Got lucky with beautiful views of Mount Carrie with blue skies on our side trip to Cat Peak

Fall Colors and Mount Olympus

Fall Colors and Mount Olympus

Hiking above last night's lake

Hiking above last night’s lake

The ALDHA-West Gathering was so inspirational, I got to see a presentation by Trauma and Pepper about their PCT winter traverse and many others.

Pepper and Trauma talk about their PCT Winter Traverse

Pepper and Trauma talk about their PCT Winter Traverse

Gave my Arizona Trail talk, there was a lot of interest in the room and I hope we’ll see many of those folks on the AZT in the future. Also got to see Anish days after she set the Appalachian Trail speed record, what fun to be a part of such a dynamic group.

ALDHA West Gathering

ALDHA-West Gathering

October

My friends got married at the Nordic Center in Flagstaff and Brian and I hit the Aspen Loop/AZT for some fall color.

Fall Color on the Arizona Trail north of Snowbowl

Fall Color on the Arizona Trail north of Snowbowl

I did a canyoneering loop down the East Fork of Lemmon Canyon- a wonderland of giant granite boulders and waterfalls. The final rappel was into the “punchbowl” of Lemmon Pools.

Russ in a granite cave

Russ in a granite cave

DSCF1037

Giant granite boulders in East Fork Lemmon Canyon

Lemmon Pools

Lemmon Pools

Wilderness of Rock

Wilderness of Rock- photo by Russ Newberg

Gorgeous sunset and sliver of moon over Thimble Peak

Gorgeous sunset and sliver of moon over Thimble Peak

My favorite part of October was finding little Roscoe at Pima Animal Care Center. He was 3 months old with the most adorable little brown face and gigantic paws. Can’t wait till he’s big enough to be my backpacking buddy!

Roscoe

Roscoe- 3 months old

DSC03062

Roscoe and his buddy Stu

DSC02690

First hike in the Tortolitas

November

Oh Grand Canyon…how I’ve missed you!  Spent six days solo backpacking from Tanner to Grandview along the Escalante Route and Tonto Trails. Only saw one other person the first five days, it felt like I had the whole Canyon to myself.

Redwall Overlook on Tanner Trail

Redwall Overlook on Tanner Trail

Morning at 75-Mile Saddle Camp

Morning at 75-Mile Saddle Camp

Rainbow over Unkar Rapid

Outrageously good rainbow over Unkar Rapid

Dramatic light on Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple

Dramatic light on Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple

On Thanksgiving I hiked to the south side of Sombrero Peak, Peak 3263- a fun little bushwhack.

DSC02746.JPG

Hiking up to Peak 3263

DSC02755

Micro Chicken’s Thanksgiving dinner

Took a hike on the always-attractive Baby Jesus Trail to round out the month.DSC02781

December

Fall comes late to Southern Arizona and I did a Sabino Canyon -Bear Canyon loop to catch the color.

DSC02866.JPG

Sabino Canyon

Bear Canyon

Bear Canyon

Went for a fall hike in Cienega Creek. Ash trees were the best in the drainage, with some cottonwoods and sycamores still hanging on.

Cienega Creek

Cienega Creek

Tried a new loop near Catalina State Park- a route that connects Alamo Canyon and Buster Mountain was a fun puzzle to follow.

Alamo-Buster Loop (2)

Saguaros and Leviathan and Wilderness Domes

Alamo-Buster Loop (5)

Gneiss!

Witnessed my friends Kathy and Ras Vaughan complete the first known Yo-yo (up and back) of the Arizona Trail– what an accomplishment!

Completed- the first known Yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

Completed- the first known Yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

Planned on Christmas and end of the year hikes but got sick with the flu instead. Oh well.

2015 was a year of change and transitions. Some years are tougher than others and this one didn’t come easy- I am looking forward to 2016.

Now for the big news…I decided that I am going to section-hike the length of the Grand Canyon over the next couple of years. I will be connecting a line- some on the south side, some on the north- from Lee’s Ferry to Pearce Ferry. The total mileage is somewhere around 600, depending on what routes are taken and there is no trail for most of it. To date, only 27 people have walked through the canyon and of those, only three women. Most of the route I will be taking will be tough bushwhacking and scrambling through one of the most remote, wild and extreme places on the planet.

Grand Canyon Overview Map

Grand Canyon Overview Map

Redwall Heart over Nankoweap Rapid.JPG

Redwall heart over Nankoweap Rapid

To date, I’ve hiked from Tanner to Elves Chasm, minus the Gems, for which I have a permit in the spring. The most exciting news is that I am taking the month of October off to hike a big chunk of the Canyon! I am currently figuring out what section I will be doing and who will be joining me.  As much as I enjoy my solo time, safety comes first and I’ll feel more comfortable with someone else there. I haven’t felt this kind of excitement since I first heard about the Arizona Trail.

It’s eight years since I started blogging for my first hike of the Arizona Trail and six on this site- thanks for reading and giving me someone to share my stories with. I wish for good fortune and exciting adventures for all in the new year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

November 1-6th

I had three events to work for the Arizona Trail Asociation- two in Tusayan, just south of the Grand Canyon and one in Page. Six days in between and I was determined to spend every second of it in the Grand Canyon. Late Sunday morning, we had a beautiful ceremony for the placement of a memorial bench dedicated to the Father of the Arizona Trail, Dale Shewalter, and then I was off to finish writing up the event and last-minute packing. I parked at Grandview and looked for a ride. I didn’t have to look long, parked right next to me was a fellow Grand Canyon enthusiast who had just finished a trip.

Dale Shewalter Memorial Bench in Tusayan

Dale Shewalter Memorial Bench in Tusayan- thanks Dale for having the vision to create this amazing trail across Arizona!

Day 1

I didn’t get hiking until 3:30 pm on the Tanner Trail, but I wasn’t planning on going very far. A mile and a half away is 75-mile saddle with good camping spots. The trail was steep, dropping 1700 feet and rocky through the Kaibab, Toroweap and Coconino. My pack was heavy with six days of food and 5 liters of water- enough to dry camp and have plenty for the descent to the river the next day.

View from Tanner Trail- I am headed for the saddle at the edge of the shadow

View from Tanner Trail- I am headed for the saddle at the edge of the shadow

So happy to be back in the Grand Canyon!

So happy to be back in the Grand Canyon!

It was a warm and windless night, even up at 5600 ft. and I found the perfect spot overlooking 75-Mile Canyon. I could see O’Neill Butte and Horseshoe Mesa and Desert View Watchtower loomed above. Camped under the stars, happy to be back in my beloved Grand Canyon again.

75-Mile Canyon- in a couple of days I'd be camping where this canyon comes out at the Colorado River

75-Mile Canyon- in a couple of days I’d be camping where this canyon comes out at the Colorado River

Day 2

Morning at 75-Mile Saddle Camp

Morning at 75-Mile Saddle Camp

The next morning, I had a bit of level trail in the Supai to start my day, contouring under Cardenas and Escalante Buttes. At the Redwall break, there is a short spur trail that goes up to one of the most fantastic views of the Palisades of the Desert, Comanche Point and the Grand Canyon Supergroup area upstream of Tanner. I spent almost two hours looking at the different landmarks and taking pictures.

Redwall Overlook on Tanner Trail

Redwall Overlook on Tanner Trail

It was so hard to leave, but the day was heating up and the river was still a long way away. I made quick work of the Redwall and the Muav, happy to have my umbrella for shade. The Dox Sandstone is soft and the trail is mushed into the side of the hill, making the left leg higher than the right. I reached Tanner Beach at 2pm and got in the chilly water to cool off.

Tanner Trail through the Dox Sandstone

Tanner Trail through the Dox Sandstone

The river was running brown from the last round of storms in an unbelievably wet year. It didn’t look too silty (whitecaps instead of browncap waves), so I tried it through my Platypus gravity filter. That thing rocks. Filtered with no problems and is a cinch to backflush. Plus I can set up and eat, watch boats go through the rapids and my water is done.

Tanner Rapid

Tanner Rapid

Silt from backflushing my gravity filter. This was with no settling and it worked great.

Silt from backflushing my gravity filter. This was without settling first and it worked great.

I was getting ready to leave a couple of hours later to start the Escalante Route and hike to Cardenas Beach for the night when a man appeared and said he’d be hiking to the Hermit Trail for the next 11 days. I ran into him a couple of times, and was the only person I saw for the first five days. I had a couple miles to Cardenas, small ups and downs through various ravines. Hit the beach just as I was losing daylight. This is also part of the Hayduke Trail, an 800-mile circuitous route that goes from Arches to Zion.

Hiking to Cardenas

Hiking to Cardenas

For the last four summers I have worked as a river guide in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater. I’ve run the river over 20 times and hiked pieces of the route I’d be traversing, but it was totally different experience to be here solo. Cardenas is always one of my favorite camps, how blissful to have it all to myself on a warm autumn night (and to not have to get up at 4:30 am to make coffee for 30 people). I did some long-exposure photography and set my bed up on the beach.

DSC02282.JPG

Cardenas Beach

The winds kicked up in the middle of the night and I was glad I’d borrowed a tent from a friend. Sleeping under the stars, as much as I love it, was not going to work for most of the trip because of the incoming storm.

Day 3

The next morning the skies were blue above, but as I made the climb to the Hilltop Ruin, I could see dark clouds downstream. Decided to skip the Unkar Overlook spur and keep moving because the rains had started. I put on my rain jacket and my trash-compactor bag rainskirt.

Weather coming in west of Hilltop Ruin

Weather coming in west of Hilltop Ruin

As I hiked along the Unkar Wall, I looked back and saw one of the most amazing rainbows I’ve ever seen! Dropped the pack and scrambled to get my camera, trying to take shots without getting the camera soaked before the rainbow disappeared. My heart soared- this is why I hike, for the privilege of seeing exquisite moments like this.

Outrageously good rainbow over Unkar Rapid

Outrageously good rainbow over Unkar Rapid

I moved on, hiking in the intermittent rain toward Escalante Creek. The trail winds and climbs toward a high saddle and I got another rainbow, a little less intense than the first, but still gorgeous. In Escalante Creek, I found running water and took several liters so I wouldn’t have to settle the increasingly silty Colorado. I took a break at Escalante Beach before my last climb up to access 75-mile Canyon. The route climbs and then turns to give a great view of the slot canyon below. I contoured back to the access point and scrambled down into the canyon. It made me uneasy to break the rule of not being in a slot canyon while it’s raining.

Looking down on 75-Mile Canyon Narrows

Looking down on 75-Mile Canyon Narrows

Rocking the trash-compactor bag rain skirt

Rocking the trash-compactor bag rain skirt

75-Mile Canyon Narrows

75-Mile Canyon Narrows

The cream-colored Shinumo Quartzite slot canyon is a gorgeous place to be. I remembered back to a river trip where I visited not once, but twice in one evening on a full moon. The canyon opened up near the river and I camped at Nevills Beach. Soon after my dinner, it started raining and I got in the tent and fell asleep early.

Day 4

I woke at 4:30 in the morning after plenty of sleep. It was warmer and had stopped raining. Spent some time taking long-exposure pictures and writing in my journal. Yet another thing I love about solo hiking. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want and am never bored.

Headlamp Fun at Nevills Beach (75-Mile Canyon)

Headlamp Fun at Nevills Beach (75-Mile Canyon)

There are two routes to the Papago Wall, a low and a high route and I stayed low on the slabs above the water. There is a 30 foot scramble up the wall and then the route climbs to a rubble-choked gully called the Papago Slide. I didn’t have any problems with the wall, but I took my pack off to hoist it up for one part and it would have been easier to keep it on. At the top of the wall, I saw the backpacker I’d met at Tanner below and he climbed up to join me.

Low route to the Papago Wall

Low route to the Papago Wall

Papago Pouroff

Papago Pouroff

Papago Wall

Papago Wall

Micro Chicken on top of the Papago Wall

Micro Chicken on top of the Papago Wall

Having a blast!

Having a blast!

The Papago Slide is a loose and nasty descent filled with every size of rock and I led the way, keeping plenty of room between me and him to avoid rockfall. There is a good route through it and it just takes being thoughtful with your movements. We got to Hance Rapid just as some boaters pulled in to scout from the opposite bank. It was super-fun to watch them go through. I hiked on to spend some quality alone time with Hance.

Papago Slide- loose and steep

Papago Slide- loose and steep

Hance Rapid is the first “10” on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The powerful waves churn through many rocks and holes and it is one of the most technical rapids on the river. To stand beside it on the rocks was incredible and I spent a long time thinking about my summers working as a river guide. I had decided at the end of this season that I will not be returning next summer- a bittersweet decision, but I am glad for all the things I learned, people I met and the opportunity to teach people about this amazing place. I’ve got some things in the works- a new website and lots of writing to do and part of that plan is to spend more time in the Grand Canyon on foot.

Mighty Hance Rapid

Mighty Hance Rapid

The rain was coming in again, so I put my trash compactor rainskirt on and got going. Red Canyon marks the beginning of the Tonto Trail, following the Tonto Platform as it began to rise from the river. The trail climbed and I got a good view of the historic Hance Asbestos Mine and the Granite Gorge. It rained on and off and when the clouds lifted there was a dusting of snow on the upper reaches of the Canyon.

The rising Tonto Platform

The rising Tonto Platform

Trail Antics

Trail Antics

Historic Hance Asbestos Mine

Historic Hance Asbestos Mine

Hello Granite Gorge!

Hello Granite Gorge!

I was trying to get to Hance Creek, my next water source, but all the time spent at the rapids was starting to catch up with me. I was probably going to have to roll into camp by headlamp. The trail contoured through Mineral Canyon and at the dry creek crossing, I heard the most wonderful sound- running water! Up a side ravine from the crossing was an ephemeral waterfall and I made my way over to it. This water meant that I didn’t have to push to Hance Creek and that I could do a dry camp on the Tonto Platform, one of my favorite types of GC camps.

Ephemeral Waterfall in Mineral Canyon

Ephemeral Waterfall in Mineral Canyon

Even as I filtered water, the waterfall went dry. Right place at the right time, I guess. I Tontoured out of Mineral Canyon, looking for a place to camp and found the perfect spot complete with a little wall for a windbreak and nice sitting rocks. The views were outrageously good of Vishnu Temple, Wotans Throne and Angels Gate. It was the coldest night yet and very windy.

Day 5

The next morning, I was treated to an incredible sunrise and I spent hours writing, taking pictures and looking at maps for an upcoming adventure.

Morning on the Tonto

Morning on the Tonto

Dramatic light on Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple

Dramatic light on Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple

Chilly but happy!

Chilly but happy!

I got going around noon and hiked to Hance Creek. Upstream from the creek crossing are some lovely Tapeats ledges and I settled in for a day of not doing a whole lot. More writing, a short exploration up and downstream, and a nice chat with the other folks that were camped in the area. It was great to have a day to relax.

A beautiful day for hiking on the Tonto

A beautiful day for hiking on the Tonto

Dates, goat cheese and bacon

Dates, goat cheese and bacon

Hance Creek

Hance Creek

Day 6

I’d made a habit of listening to Miles Davis Kind of Blue in the morning while I got packed up and got hiking around 9:30 toward Page Springs. In most seasons this shady, fern-lined place would be a welcome place for a break but today it was so chilly I had to put several layers on while filtering.

Page Spring

Page Spring

I enjoyed the historic trail construction in the Redwall ascent, especially the portion that has a giant quartz vein going through the trailbed. Got to Horseshoe Mesa and took a long break.

Quartz Trail

Quartz Trail

As I hiked up off the mesa I could see the area I’d traversed the last six days and downstream toward Zoroaster and Brahma Temples. Made it through the Supai and it was cold enough to need a fleece and hat while hiking uphill. I love the trail construction in the Coconino- riprap cobblestone and log cribbing to keep the trail on the hillside.

Horseshoe Mesa

Horseshoe Mesa

Trail Construction in the Coconino

Trail Construction in the Coconino

Looking back on my route

Looking back on my route

Coconino Log Cribbing

Coconino Log Cribbing

Patches of ice and snow appeared in the Toroweap and Kaibab, but not enough for me to put my traction on- if I’d been going downhill I’d have put them on for sure. I reached the parking lot feeling a lot better than I’d anticipated and made it over to Desert View Watchtower to see the sun set on my latest adventure.

Snow and ice on the upper Grandview Trail

Snow and ice on the upper Grandview Trail

Sunset at Desert View

Sunset at Desert View

It is hard to express how good this trip was for me. I’ve had a lot of great backpacking opportunities this year, but I haven’t gotten as much solo time as usual. To move through the Canyon for days on foot with time to contemplate life, feeling like I have the whole place to myself- there is nothing better.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: