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

Looking down on the big pouroff

One of my recent adventures –  Jackass Canyon

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

Map-GC-Clear-Creek

The route we took – map courtesy of Wilderness Vagabond

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

Mule Train on the South Kaibab

Best location I can think of for my birthday!

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

Kaibab Tunnel

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

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

Black Bridge at Night

 

Nighttime at Boat Beach

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

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

The Great Unconformity


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

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

Photo by Ryan Linn

 

Descent into Clear Creek

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

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

Clear Creek Waterfall

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

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

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

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

Goat cheese, dehydrated olive tapenade, pepperoni and bacon

 

Zoroaster Temple

 

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

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

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

  

Micro Chicken

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

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

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

Photo by Ryan Linn

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

Photo by Ryan Linn

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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In mid-September, I went to Olympic National Park for a four-day backpacking trip to write an article, A Desert Rat in the Rainforest, featured on the Gossamer Gear website.

I’ve got a million pictures from that trip, and thought I’d share some of them and tell the story in photo captions.

Goodbye Grand Canyon, I'm headed to the Pacific Northwest!

Goodbye Grand Canyon, I’m headed to the Pacific Northwest!

Gear for Olympic NP- lots more clothes, much less water!

Gear for Olympic NP- lots more clothes, much less water!

Backpacking companions Jake, Ian and Grant

Backpacking companions Jake, Ian and Grant

Grant

Grant “Gorilla” Sible of Gossamer Gear in the mist

Cute log bridge

Cute log bridge in the rainforest on the Sol Duc Trail

Massive trees as we gain elevation out of the rainforest up into the alpine region

Massive trees as we gain elevation out of the rainforest up into the alpine region

Heart Lake

Heart Lake

Camping by a lake, just like home...

Camping by a lake, just like at home…

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

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

Looking down on the Hoh River

Looking down on the Hoh River

Micro Chicken and mighty Mount Olympus

Gorgeous views of Cat Peak

Gorgeous views of Cat Peak

Never before seen- me throwing out water!

Never before seen- me throwing out water!

Fall Colors and Mount Olympus

Fall Colors and Mount Olympus

Gorgeous reds, oranges and yellows

Gorgeous reds, oranges and yellows

This was the first time I used a Gossamer Gear Q-Twinn tarp. I'll always prefer cowboy camping, but this is a great alternative to a tent!

This was the first time I used a Gossamer Gear Q-Twinn tarp. I’ll always prefer cowboy camping, but this is a great alternative to a tent!

Hiking above last night's lake

Hiking above last night’s lake

Sol Duc Falls near the end of our loop- touristy but beautiful!

Sol Duc Falls near the end of our loop- touristy but beautiful!

Here’s a slow-mo video of the falls:

Made a stop at Rialto Beach before driving back- I'll have to come and backpack along the coast someday!

Made a stop at Rialto Beach before driving back- I’ll have to come and backpack along the coast someday!

After the backpacking trip, I headed to the American Long Distance Hiking Association- West (ALDHA-West) Gathering at Mount Hood Kiwanis Camp. I gave my Arizona Trail talk and saw many inspiring presentations, including Trauma and Pepper’s talk about their Pacific Crest Trail winter traverse. Caught up with friends I’ve made in the hiking world who are scattered all over the country. What a fantastic way to round out my trip to the Pacific Northwest!

ALDHA-West Gathering

ALDHA-West Gathering- photo by Outdoor Viewfinder

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In May, I attended the International Trails Symposium in Portland, Oregon to give a presentation about my work with the Warrior Hike program that puts veterans with PTSD on the National Scenic Trails to “Walk off the War”. I presented with folks from PATH International, who help veterans through equine therapy, and Ride 2 Recovery, who help veterans through road and mountain biking. It was a very uplifting experience to see these other programs that are helping our veterans and I would highly recommend the short film Riding My Way Back that chronicles one soldier’s journey back from the brink of suicide and the horse that helped save him.

Staff Sergeant Aaron Heliker, star of Riding My Way Back, talks about the importance of outdoor therapy programs for veterans to help them regain a sense of self and brotherhood.

Staff Sergeant Aaron Heliker, star of Riding My Way Back, talks about the importance of outdoor therapy programs for veterans to help them regain a sense of self and brotherhood.

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

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

I had some time to hike the local Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and a quick hike in Forest Park with my friend Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and his dog Karluk. Great outings so close to town!

Karluk and Allgood in Forest Park

Karluk and Allgood in Forest Park

After the conference was done, I had scheduled some time to explore the area. Lucky for me, my gracious hostess, fellow blogger and good friend Kimberlie Dame had the same days off, so we planned on going backpacking in the Columbia River Gorge. Hard to believe, but I’d never been backpacking outside of Arizona before- dayhiking, yes- but not backpacking! Years ago, I’d seen a picture of Kimberlie at Tunnel Falls and was mesmerized by the exotic beauty of the place. We put together a loop that went up Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls, to Wahtum Lake to intersect with the Pacific Crest Trail to Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods which marks the WA/OR border, about 29 miles.

Map I found online of the Eagle Creek area

Fun map I found online of the Eagle Creek area

We made a quick stop at Multnomah Falls on the way out to Eagle Creek Trailhead. It was Friday of Memorial Day Weekend and we wanted to make sure to secure a campsite- this area is very popular with both dayhikers and backpackers.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

I started out with a liter and a half of water, probably the least I’ve carried in a long time but still overkill in this wet and overcast environment.The trail was wide and fancy and soon we came to the Metlako Falls overlook and took the side trip, followed by Punchbowl Falls. Everything was so totally different than the desert environment that I’m used to- so many plants and wildflowers that I wasn’t familiar with and this strange wet stuff everywhere!

Starting out on the Eagle Creek Trail

Starting out on the Eagle Creek Trail

Metlako Falls

Metlako Falls

Punchbowl Falls

Punchbowl Falls

Kimberlie and me

Kimberlie and me

Eagle Creek Trail

Eagle Creek Trail

We passed Loowit Falls and then came to an amazing slot pool- it was begging for a return trip in warmer weather with my inner tube floatie. We entered the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness and the trail was lined with giant ferns and trees dripping with moss. I could hear Tunnel Falls before I could see it- the sweet sound of rushing water dropping a large distance. Then I turned the corner and there it was in all its glory- the giant cascade, the fern-lined tunnel, the mossy columnar basalt framing the pool below. What a place!!DSC03414

Loowit Falls

Loowit Falls

Amazing long slot pool in Eagle Creek

Amazing long slot pool in Eagle Creek

Mossy tunnel

Mossy tunnel

Tunnel Falls

Tunnel Falls

DSC03455

The full length of Tunnel Falls

The full length of Tunnel Falls

DSC03492

Micro Chicken and Skoonichuk Falls

I wanted to hang out for a while and so we set up for a break and watched folks go by while I explored around. After we saw several groups of backpackers, we decided it would be a good idea to go claim a campsite along the creek. We hiked a short distance away and found a wonderful spot for the two of us. It was close enough to Tunnel Falls that I went back for another visit which included a dance party for one in said tunnel. I could hear the soothing sounds of the creek as I went to bed.

Tunnel Falls- a magnificent place to be!

Tunnel Falls- a magnificent place to be!

In the morning, we had a leisurely start and continued climbing up Eagle Creek. It was outrageously pleasant hiking, winding back and forth across the creek before ascending the Benson Plateau. As we gained elevation the scenery and the vegetation changed and we hiked into a misty cloud. So very Pacific Northwest- exactly what I had been expecting.

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

Hiking up to the Benson Plateau

Hiking up to the Benson Plateau

Into the Mist

Into the Mist

We ascended the gentlest switchback I’ve ever seen and then reached a sign for the PCT. My first time on this legendary trail! All day, I’d been making jokes about having a hot dog at a Memorial Day BBQ when we got to Wahtum Lake, but alas, there were some campers, but no hot dogs. Our view of Wahtum Lake was confined to the first two feet off the shore.

My first PCT marker

My first PCT marker!

Wahtum Lake

Wahtum Lake

Trillium

Trillium

The trail climbed toward the Chinidere Mountain junction, which is supposed to have amazing views of five glaciated volcanoes- we took a pass because there would be no views from the top today. The trail undulated along the ridge and it was a long day of hiking to set us up for a short day the next day to make it back for a BBQ.

Crazy fungus

Crazy fungus

Very much what I was expecting- hiking through the mist and tall trees

Very much what I was expecting- hiking through the mist and tall trees

We were famished when we finally reached our campsite. When we’d started, we weren’t sure if we were going to spend one night or two out. We had enough food for two nights, but just barely- it would mean hot oats for dinner. Now I haven’t been able to even look at a pack of oatmeal since my thru-hike last year, but I devoured those hot oats like they were my favorite dish! Kimberlie was nice enough hike down to Teakettle Spring for water and I played around with my headlamp and took pictures. We were amazed to find that we had taken the exact same picture of the trees above our campsite.DSC03648

Campsite View

Campsite View

I slept well, even though it was punctuated with wet “plops” from the misty trees on my tent. The trail descended steeply down the hill and then came to a sweet open ridge where the clouds parted and I got a quick view of the Columbia River. Before long, we were below the mist in the big green ferns again. DSC03654

Ridgeline

Ridgeline

Slug.

Slug.

DSC03683

Columbia River

Columbia River

We reached the Gorge Trail and took it to the Bridge of the Gods, but instead of crossing it, we immediately went looking for food. After a half-hour wait at a roadside burger stand, we ate and drank milkshakes and managed to score a ride back to the Eagle Creek TH with some friendly vacationers. It was a stellar introduction to backpacking in the PNW! DSC03700

This way to the PCT!

This way to the PCT!

DSC03711

Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

On Memorial Day I visited the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and did a little hiking. Unfortunately my sweet new Sony A6000 took a tumble and needs to be replaced. Thank goodness for warranties! I was going to drive back to Portland for the night but the traffic was awful so I went to Trillium Lake and car-camped. I was treated to an amazing view of Mount Hood and a pack of ducklings the next morning before I left.

Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day!

Ducklings at Trillium Lake

Ducklings at Trillium Lake

I am really looking forward to returning to Portland in September, when I will be giving a presentation on the Arizona Trail at the American Long-Distance Hiking Association-West (ALDHA-West) 20th Annual Gathering. I have plans to explore Olympic National Park while in the area and I can’t wait!

Until then, I am working my fourth summer as a guide on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners. Just finished my first trip and it was a surprisingly chilly one for June- I’ll take it! So great to be back in the Canyon, the place that truly holds my heart, once again.

Little Colorado River

Little Colorado River

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I had been watching wildflower reports and my schedule for the right time to get away for three days on the Arizona Trail from Picketpost Trailhead near Superior to Kelvin. This 40-mile backpacking trip is one of my favorite pieces of the Arizona Trail in the spring because its dramatic rock formations and views look even better coated in poppies!

I met up with some friends from Superior who were kind enough to shuttle me to Picketpost. It was a gorgeous day after a couple days of rain. The visibility was fantastic and the air crisp and fresh. I got on the trail around 10:30 and saw many groups of equestrians out for a ride as well as a couple of hikers. My pack was loaded down with water and a pair of loppers so that I could do some trail work down by the Gila River. I am the Trail Steward of Passage 16c and I’d heard there was some brushy areas, so I came prepared to do battle with spiny plants.

Picketpost Mountain

Picketpost Mountain

The trail maintenance was a day and a half away, for now all I had to do was hike. I have done these two passages once a year for the last four years and still find it as exciting as the first time. There was water in places I hadn’t seen before, left over from the recent rains. The trail climbs up to what I like to call Stripey Butte Saddle, with great views toward the Pinal Mountains. I ran into a thru-hiker who was on the move, probably trying to make Superior before sundown. I love the views from this spot, but it was still early and I hiked on.

Stripey Butte Saddle

Stripey Butte Saddle

Blue Dicks

Blue Dicks

I filled up water at a cattle tank that was surprisingly clear and tasty. I had seven liters of water and one liter of coconut water as I hiked up to the saddle right before the gate that marks the “trailhead” between Passages 16 and 17. I use the term loosely, hardly anyone actually drives to this spot, the road in is beyond gnarly. I found a great spot for camp with views of Stripey Butte, the Pinals and the trail winding through the next canyon. An almost-full moon rose and illuminated my campsite so well that I didn’t need a light to write in my journal. It was a chilly, somewhat windy night but I had only gotten 5 hours of sleep the night before and woke up well-rested.

Sunset from my camp

Sunset from my camp

In the morning, I was taking my sweet time getting out of camp when Scott Morris and Eszter Horanyi rode up on their mountain bikes. Do yourself a favor and visit their blogs, they are always on some sort of fantastic adventure. They were using the AZT as part of a bikepacking weekend and were looking forward to going into Superior for Mexican food. We had a nice chat about wildflowers and such and they were on their way.

Scott and Eszter

Scott and Eszter

Scott and Eszter on a bikepacking trip

Scott and Eszter on a bikepacking trip

Finally got hiking around 10 am, reached the “trailhead” and soon afterward found a pothole of water in a rocky spot on the trail. Being the desert hiker that I am, I stopped and filtered a liter to drink on the spot and refilled what I’d used the night before. It was 10 miles to the river and I wanted to be able to take my time- and time is water in the desert. The trail contours high above a rugged canyon, passing some spectacular rock formations and craggy peaks. Views opened up into colorful Martinez Canyon and then I reached the high saddle and took a break. I love this saddle, but it makes a bad campsite in the spring, it doesn’t get sun till really late and is a bit of a wind tunnel. Spectacular views though.

This is the "Trailhead"

This is the “Trailhead”

Fantastic Formations

Fantastic Formations

Looking into Martinez Canyon

Looking into Martinez Canyon

Gila River Canyons

Gila River Canyons

The trail wound around some cliffs and then began the long drop toward the Gila River. I could see all the way to the Catalinas, 60 miles away as the crow flies. The wildflowers increased in variety and density as I descended, sometimes carpeting the whole hillside. I was giddy with delight! The trail goes by a notable spire with the unofficial name of Dale’s Butte, after the pioneer of the Arizona Trail, Dale Shewalter. It’s quite the landmark.

Penstemon

Penstemon

Globe Mallow and Brittlebush

Globe Mallow and Brittlebush

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

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

This part of the trail always feels like it is so much longer than 10 miles to get to the river. The trail is great, just circuitous routing to keep a good grade. Near the river, I made a visit to Red Mountain Seep to refill my water. It’s only 0.3 miles up the wash from where the trail hits the river access and there is a blue collection bucket sunk into the ground if you follow the big cairns up the hill. It was a welcome sight, as it had taken most of my water to get there since I had taken so long with pictures and poppy-peeping.

Red Mountain Seep

Red Mountain Seep

I couldn’t resist a trip down to the Gila River to soak my feet and take a break. The river was so low that I could see a gravel bar that would make walking right across a piece of cake. Not the case all the time. After my refreshing break, I finally got my loppers and my gloves out and geared up to do some trail maintenance as I hiked. My criteria was, if it’s spiny and it’s going to hit someone in the face, it’s got to go. The cutting part went easy enough, it was grubbing the spiny chunks of tree away from the trail that was tough to do without getting all scraped up. I hiked and trimmed until the sun went down and then hiked with my headlamp for a bit until I found a home for the night. Much warmer this night since I had dropped 2000 feet in elevation.

Gila River

Gila River

Sunset along the Gila River

Sunset along the Gila River

The next morning, the Arizona spring wind kicked in and it howled all day long. It kept the temperature down, which was good. I continued my assault against spiny face-slappers as I hiked along, missing the days when I used to get out regularly to do trail work. I took a much-needed break at the river and rinsed some of the dust off. Which was immediately replaced by more dust. Unfortunately, my loppers were getting dull and it was getting infuriating, the blade gnawing at even small-diameter branches of catclaw. Even so, I got most of the big stuff along the river trimmed. The trail in my passage rolls up and down through drainages on The Spine- it is a marvel of engineering that created such a nice trail in such a rugged place. I saw my only person since seeing Scott and Eszter, the rancher from Battle Axe Ranch, out looking for his cows.

Gila River Campsite

Gila River Campsite

Stone Tool

Stone Tool

Battling spiny plants

Battling spiny plants

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Battle Axe Rancher

Battle Axe Rancher

I passed the A-Diamond Ranch and the trestle bridge and climbed up to the completion monument that was placed when we connected the Arizona Trail across the state in December 2011. The DS carved into the cement stand for Dale Shewalter, pioneer of the Arizona Trail.

Scorpionweed and Poppies

Scorpionweed and Poppies

Trestle Bridge

Trestle Bridge

Completion Marker

Completion Marker

Sunset looking down at the tiny town of Kelvin/Riverside

Sunset looking down at the tiny town of Kelvin/Riverside

The light was fading and I ended up getting back to my car in the dark. It was a great end to a fantastic trip- wildflowers, solitude, trail work, jaw-dropping scenery- I am lucky to have such spectacular places to play in.

Arizona Trail Day and the Colossal Campout is less than 2 weeks away, on March 28th- come out for a full day and night of fun on the Arizona Trail! Register for the hike, mountain bike ride, or horseback ride (BYO Horse) and reserve your camping and meals at http://www.aztrail.org/trail_day/ccmp.html. The Warrior Hike “Walk off the War” veterans will be hiking into Tucson for Arizona Trail Day. We are very excited to have two veterans thru-hiking the trail for Warrior Hike this year.

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey and raptors from Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson will be at Arizona Trail Day- hope to see you there!

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey on the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey on the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas

AZTrailDay2015 CCMP

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Despite working for a trail organization, I get stuck behind my computer and an endless stream of emails and phone calls. I needed to get away for a quick overnighter and realized I hadn’t hiked the new Tortolita Ridgeline Trail. I worked until 4 and got hiking by 5 on the Tortolitas Superloop. Made it onto the Cochie Canyon Trail for a great sunset- I almost missed the best part of it cause I thought it was over and started hiking again. Found a spot after hiking with my headlamp for a bit that had the only flat real estate around and set up camp. Had an enjoyable evening with a beautiful halo around the moon for photography.DSC01501

Moon Halo

Moon Halo

The next morning, I hiked to the old windmill and got on the connector route over to Wild Mustang. When I reached the saddle, I explored a well-cairned route that seems to go back under the rocky peak and toward Wild Burro Wash.  Something to check out next time. There were great views of the Catalinas and Picacho Peak from the saddle.

Cochie Canyon Camp

Cochie Canyon Camp

Pretty green out here!

Pretty green out here!

Windmill in Cochie Canyon

Windmill in Cochie Canyon

Route from Cochie Canyon to the saddle

Route from Cochie Canyon to the saddle

Saddle on the Cochie- Mustang connector route- Picacho Peak at right

Saddle on the Cochie- Mustang connector route- Picacho Peak at right

Catalinas in the distance from the saddle

Catalinas in the distance from the saddle

The route goes past a crested saguaro that has seen better times- a victim of the frost of 2010. I made it to the Wild Mustang and took it to the new-to-me Wild Burro Tank/Goat Corral trail. This trail meanders through the desert until it reaches Wild Burro Tank, a solar windmill with a big metal tank and a wildlife tank with a covered float. I had brought all my water for the two days but took on an emergency liter from the tank just in case. Such a desert hiker.

Crested Saguaro on the route down to Wild Mustang- this is a very rare mutation and no one knows why it happens.

Crested Saguaro on the route down to Wild Mustang- this is a very rare mutation and no one knows why it happens. The Tortolitas seem to have a high concentration of them.

Looking back at the saddle on the right of the small rocky peak

Looking back at the saddle on the right of the small rocky peak

A perfect Saguaro

A perfect Saguaro

Memorial to Molly

Memorial to Molly

Wild Burro Tank solar windmill

Wild Burro Tank solar windmill

After exploring the Goat Corral area I started up the Ridgeline Trail’s lazy switchbacks up to the ridgecrest. The trail construction in the Tortolitas is amazing! The new Ridgeline is a delight! It contours around, swooping this way and that to stay on the ridgeline and offers incredible views down into the Tortolitas as well as views of the Catalinas, Santa Ritas, and Picacho Peak. All of this and wildflowers too, many varieties including some fragrant ceanothus. I was super-excited to be on such a sweet fresh piece of trail so close to my home.

Road that goes out east to Edwin Rd.

Road that goes out east to Edwin Rd.

Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

Crested Cactus #2

Crested Cactus #2

Crested Saguaro #3

Crested Saguaro #3

Sweeping curves of the Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

Sweeping curves of the Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

The Wild Burro Tank/Ridgeline loop eventually drops you back at Wild Burro just a little ways down from where you started the loop. It’s a great tour of the interior of the Torts. I took the Wild Burro Trail all the way and made it back to my car with out seeing anyone for the entire time I was out. A perfect little getaway.

Ancient Grinding Holes

Ancient Grinding Holes

Old cowboy line shack

Old cowboy line shack

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, Elfie the Elf Owl, Citan the Harris Hawk and Luna the Great Horned Owl will be out and about as part of the second annual Arizona Trail Day and Colossal Campout happening on March 28th. Trail Day is a full free day and night of fun on the Arizona Trail and the birds will be part of our Outdoor Expo, which runs from 12-3 at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Registration is open for the hike, bike ride or equestrian ride in the morning and for nighttime fun at La Selvilla Campground with music by Eb Eberlein and friends, tasty food by It’s Greek to Me and Arizona Trail Ale by the campfire. Free entry to the park and camping for Arizona Trail Day! Visit http://www.aztrail.org/trail_day/ccmp.html for more details.AZTrailDay2015 CCMP

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Elf Owl

Elf Owl

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