Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First Time in the Grand Canyon

This time of year is the anniversary of my first backpack trip into the Grand Canyon.  October 31-November 2, 1983 to be precise, about a year and a half after I moved to Arizona.  I made a tourist trip to the south rim in February 1983 and gawked over the rim a lot but didn't try to walk.  The visit sure whet my appetite for something more adventuresome.

Three friends from the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club in Richmond, Virginia--Bev Wilson, Greg and Catharine Moser--came out to Arizona that fall for the trip.  We had hiked together when I still lived in Virginia and came up with the idea when I visited Richmond in the spring.  By October Catharine was a few months pregnant so she and Greg explored northern Arizona while Bev and I headed down the South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Campground.

The walk in was a revelation.  I felt pretty insignificant standing on the rim looking into that vast expanse but that was nothing compared to how puny I seemed as I descended on a bright fall day.  Up top I was just a speck overlooking an immense gorge filled with buttes, ridges, plateaus and side canyons as far as my eye could see.  The farther down I went. all of those features seemed to close in around me.  I saw less and less as I made my way down through the Kaibab, Coconino and Hermit formations, each step taking me deeper into geologic time.  On the Tonto Plateau, I got my first close-up view of the Colorado River, still about 1,800 feet below.

By this time my knees were screaming.  I was hot and tired.  And now came the even steeper descent into the Inner Gorge.  One step at a time I made my way down.  Finally we reached the tunnel that took us across the Colorado to the trail that led to Bright Angel Creek and the campground.  Deep in the Grand Canyon now we saw only a sliver of sky framed between the walls of Bright Angel Canyon.  We made camp and quickly fell asleep, too exhausted to even go to Phantom Ranch for an expensive beer that evening.

The next morning I was sore but eager to walk without my full pack so we climbed east out of Bright Angel on the Clear Creek Trail and walked more or less level for a few miles to Zoroaster Point before turning around and heading back to camp.  The day was bright and sunny.  We made it back to camp in time to catch a beer at Phantom Ranch before dinner.  After dinner we returned to the dining hall to hang out and talk with others who had made the same trip.  It was Halloween and a surprising number of people were in costume, having made the effort to bring those accoutrements all the way down from the rim.

 Our last day started early as we made our way to the Bright Angel Trail and began the nine mile climb back to the South Rim.  We worked our way up the narrow confines of Pipe Creek to the switchbacks that led to Garden Creek and Indian Garden.  At this point we were about halfway out, vertically and horizontally; the world was beginning to open up for us again.  We could see much more sky now.  The final ascent took us through an even longer series of switchbacks and finally to the rim near Bright Angel Lodge.  Greg and Catharine were waiting for us.  They had already set up camp.  Bev and I set up, got showered and the four of us returned to the lodge for dinner and sitting by the roaring fire in the lobby.

That was the first of around 20 or so Grand Canyon hikes I made over the next 17 years.  All were memorable but there's something special about the first time that never seems to diminish.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Book Market at One Year

This time last year printed copies of  At the Speed of Foot arrived on my doorstep and began my odyssey as self-promoter and salesman.  One year on I would say I do that with about as much enthusiasm as I did with publishing:  limited.  I sent out press releases and distributed promotional copies to various media with no response.  I placed copies in local bookstores.  I have not actively promoted the book otherwise.

Sales have been, as expected, modest:  44 print copies, virtually all to people I know.  More surprising are my Kindle sales at  89 so far.   That number takes me beyond my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances.  One of those strangers was kind enough to write a good review, as did a non-stranger.  Many others offered nice comments, all of which told me that I succeeded as a writer.  People, regardless of their hiking experience, could read my words and understand what an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is.  Knowing that I have absolutely no regrets about publishing, no matter what the eventual bottom line.

Of course, I do still have a bottom line, not to mention plenty of  print copies, so I will encourage you to order one, two or more if you are looking for a holiday or other gift in the coming months.  At the Speed of Foot is a gift manufactured right here in the US of A.

A Kindle purchase is cool, too.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall Velo News

Cycling isn't exactly hiking nor is it at the speed of foot but it IS what I am doing these days.  If I am going to keep this blog active now that I've run through my 2002 AT journal, I'll be posting on a variety of human powered activities.

That said, Olympia's long fall came to an abrupt end about 10 days ago.  The clouds and wet weather rolled in along with the clear reminder that we are heading into The Big Dark.  All of which is challenging for me as a bicycle rider.  So far I've made it out on two wet weekends.  It's not that big of a deal--I've done it in past years but, I've gotta say that all of the nice sunny weather spoiled me more than I realized.

It took some effort to roll out into an early cloudy Saturday morning  last weekend to catch the one relatively low predicted window of precipitation at 7:30.  It was a good move.  The window held for most of my ride with rain beginning about 10 minutes before I got home.  Actually had some sunlight peeking through the clouds for a while.

This past weekend's forecast was even more unpromising--rain or showers predicted both days.  Saturday turned out better than predicted but I was committed to another activity so I wasted little time in getting out on wet but not raining Sunday morning.  My luck held.  The sky never cleared and the day was cold to start but I got in a 26 mile loop.

For the year I am at 1,064 miles.  My goal is 1040 or 20 miles per week.  I have 10 more weeks so I expect to break 1,200 miles for the second year in a row.

I also plan a couple of day hikes on the Olympic Peninsula in the coming months so I will be able to add some hiking posts to whatever else I come up with to keep this blog going and keep my book at lease minimally visible somewhere.

Stay tuned.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Test Results

My Pyramid Creek hike in Mount Rainier National Park hike was a test of how well  my aging and arthritic body handles backpacking after a five year hiatus.  I passed, I think.  The trip reminded me of how transcendent it feels to be in the backcountry and wilderness areas; these places bring a solitude and bond to the natural world I do not experience anywhere else.  I certainly still have the desire to spend time in such places.

This trip told me that I may have some challenges in fulfilling that desire.  I had no trouble walking the distances.  My biggest challenge was getting up and down from the ground due to limited flexibility and some pain from arthritis in my right hip.  The convenient log at the campsite allowed me to brace myself leverage my body up from a sitting position.  Getting out up and out of the tent was hard; gravity was against me and I had difficulty getting upright.  I quickly remembered to firmly plant my walking stick upright just outside thetent door--just as I did many nights on the Appalachian Trail--for support.  That helped but going from in-tent horizontal to outside upright was never easy. 

The difficulty exiting the tent was in part tent design.  I carried a brand new Nemo Obi 2 on this trip.  I liked that it has two doors and two vestibules.  I liked that it weighs 3.5 pounds, including my Tyvek ground cloth.  I knew that it would be tight for two but I was particularly disappointed in the lack of headroom.  Sitting on a sleeping pad, I topped out at peak height which actually isn't much because I could not move my head in any direction without hitting the mesh tent body.  The vestibules require a long reach to open, something I could not manage sitting up after putting on camp shoes.  I could only reach the vestibule zipper lying prone on my back or side.  That would mean an open tent in bad weather while I put on footwear and lift myself out of the tent.  Maybe using it solo would give me more room for a faster, less exposed exit.  I'm not sure that I want to find out.

My feet in new boots handled the walk and the load well.  I'd worn the boots sufficiently at home and then around town to get the their feel, which was good.  The route was maybe nine miles total, enough for boots to at least show some inclination to bite if that is their nature.  So far, they do not seem so disposed.  My ankles were noticeably tired at the end of the first day's walk, less so by hike's end.  I plan to test them out on some day hikes before trying another backpack trip.

Carrying a 35 to 40 pound backpack was no problem.  I carried the all of the camp gear and most of the food and water.  Maggie carried about 25 pounds, mostly her clothing and sleeping gear.  I carry a Kelty Flight 4500 pack,  the same as I carried on the AT.  It handles loads up to 45 pounds (more than I ever want to carry again) well.  It fits well and has enough adjustments to allow shifting the load distribution between hips and shoulders.  I had some difficulty putting the pack on fully loaded due to tendonitis in my left shoulder but learned to so without stressing the shoulder.

Another thing I learned on this trip was how nice it is to have a sleeping pad (a Ridgerest three-quarter) that I can throw around in the dirt and not worry about a puncture.  My preferred sleeping pad is a Therm-a-Rest ultralight.  Next time I may well carry will carry both  the Therm-a-Rest and the Ridgerest.  The latter worked well as a sitting pad on its own and was more comfortable than the small sitting pad I previously carried.   Adding the Therm-a-Rest elevated a very nice sitting spot to sheer perfection.

I learned, too, that hikers on the Wonderland Trail can mail resupply packages to ranger stations at three locations along the trail.  Good to know that I will only have to carry no more than three or four day's food max if I decide that I can actually do the entire 9e mile route. 

In all the trip turned out well.  No injuries.  Maggie and I both enjoyed the time out and the time together.  The forest was exquisite and seemingly infinite.  The caveat is that this was a very leisurely trip--short distances with lots of time--and no adverse conditions.

I passed the easy test.  If I continue along this path, more difficult tests will come.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

This Is A Test (Part 2)

Concluding the saga of my late September Mount Rainier National Park hike...

One thing I've never forgotten about backpacking:  I sleep different on the ground than I do in a bed.  Tonight I am laying on full-length not ultralight Therm-a-Rest.  Maggie has a three-quarter ultralite Therm-a-Rest and a Ridgerest  for her feet.  My challenge is to find a comfortable position that doesn't stress my right hip or left shoulder.  I feel the day's hike in my hip, sore but not painful.  I managed not to aggravate the tendonitis in my shoulder.  My feet are sore and tired.  Today was the first trail test for my new boots.  They did fine.  No blisters or hotspots.  I sleep on and off.

We have the fully buttoned up this first night.  I don't ever fully close my 20 degree bag and am comfortably warm.  I'm up at first light to stretch, relieve myself and make the trek to Pyramid Creek for morning breakfast water.  The morning is cool enough for me to bail back into the tent for another hour or so until it's warmer.  I'm out around 8:30.  Maggie's scoots on to my long pad so I can grab her Ridgerest for a sitting pad.

The temperature is around 40 degrees and is warming as the sun begins to filter through the forest canopy.  I am wearing all of the layers I brought for warmth and am reasonably comfortable as I make coffee, write, eat breakfast and do other small chores.  This site is near perfect.   It is one of three at Pyramid Creek Camp and by far the best.  It is farthest from the trail and offers the finest of camp lounging opportunities:  a log for making a backrest out of my pack, convenient rocks for draining pots, a flat space for stove and places to put everything in reach without having to get up.  I spend considerable time just sitting there, looking into what feels like infinite forest, watching the day slowly brighten.

The site has a good space for one tent.  Two solo hikers in one-person tents could possibly fit in the space but it would be tight.  One other site nearby is much better for multiple tents.  None of the sites are visible from one another.

Pyramid Creek Camp has a pit toilet that during our perfect weather stay offered a grand view for the hiker taking care of necessary business.  In less accommodating weather, the experience may differ.

 The Throne
The View

The site's biggest drawback is the distance to water.  Pyramid Creek is about 30 meters down the Wonderland Trail, not that far really but not readily convenient.  The water is gray-brown with glacial silt. That means decanting and extra long iodine treatment.  Yesterday's backtrack across Pyramid Creek showed us a clear side stream flowing into Pyramid.  We plan to water up there on the way back from today's day hike

Our original plan is to hike three miles to Indian Henrys Hunting Ground.  The reality of our  slow pace and late start changes the plan to climbing the switchbacks along Fishers Hornpipe Creek to where the Wonderland Trail crosses the creek on its way to Devils Dream Campsite.  The climb is long, steep and slow.  The day has warmed up well.  I am hiking in  nylon hiking pants and a long-sleeve polypro t-shirt.  The forest seems to deepen as we climb.  Maybe it's just the growing sense of being removed from the rest of the world--no internet, no media, no telephone, no machinery; just us and muscle power, small and puny compared to the natural world into which we walk.

The trail levels out at the top of the switchbacks and begins a traverse toward Fishers Hornpipe Creek.  We've heard the rushing water much of the way up and caught a few glimpses through the forest.  We reach the crossing and find a good spot for a break.

We amble back the way we came, taking in the forest along the way.  Happy to be here.  Happy to not be in a hurry.  Knowing that camp and comfort await not far down the trail.  Remember, I said "leisurely".  I meant it.

Back in camp I make make dinner.  Last night was the quick boil water for instant mashed potatoes and salmon.  Tonight the menu is more complicated:  mac and cheese with tuna.  Simple enough, though.  We're done with chores before sunset and take a few moments to watch dark slowly rise from the forest floor as the light fades.  In the tent, I leave my side door open so I can see the forest throughout the night.  The bug netting on the door is so fine that I wake up thinking the door is fully open.  I think the open door helps me sleep better this night.

The morning is much warmer than yesterday.  I am out of the tent at first light.  This morning I figure out that I can add the ultralight Therm-a-Rest to the Ridgerest sitting pad for extra comfort.  Once again, I watch sun light up the forest.  For the I-don't-know-how-many-th time, I remember why I am here and rejoice in my good fortune.

After a leisurely morning, we are on the trail heading out. Crossing Kautz Creek we get the view of Mount Rainier that we did not have walking in.

But mostly we walk through forest as we descend from Rampart Ridge.

 And then we are done.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

This is a Test

Or more correctly, a story about a test:   my first backpack trip since 2007 and Maggie's first in maybe 8 years.  Also my first since developing arthritis in my right hip.  For these reasons I wanted  a leisurely hike, something we could do easily if given enough time.  I chose Longmire to Pyramid Creek Camp on the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park, all of 3.5 miles.   We'd base camp there two nights and day hike in between.  Take our time.  See how it all works out.  The trip was September 25-27 in fine, fall weather.

The hike in is not hard but not exactly easy.  The trail is very good  and climbs steadily from Longmire over Rampart Ridge for the first couple of miles, following some steep switchbacks.  Some effort is required.  We take our time, which offers much opportunity to fully immerse into the surrounding forest.  As I climb I am increasingly removed from the world of pavement and commerce.  I remember why I make this kind of effort.

After Rampart Ridge the trail drops into Kautz Creek, gradually at first, then more steeply a through the forest until it scrambles down into the creekbed.

The creekbed is wide and rocky, filling the remains of a glacial valley with runoff from the Kautz Glacier on Rainier's southwestern slope.   At first glance, it looks like hardly any water at all.  Up close, the water runs strong and fast in channels spanned with log bridges.

As we begin to climb out of the creekbed, we spot a small bird, an American Dipper, darting about on the rocks at waters edge, pecking occasionally and pumping up and down on its legs.  Most amazingly, it simply runs into the pools and swims across string currents.  Coming out of Kautz Creek the trail climbs slightly as it crosses a broad divide between Kautz and Pyramid Creeks.  Pyramid Creek Camp is located about a half mile after Kautz.  The divide is forested glacial till with no major elevation change.  About the same time we hear Pyramid Creek's roar we reach the campsite turnoff.  At the same time we spy upon a moss-covered glacial moraine, almost glowing in the late afternoon light of sunny day.

So enchanting and fascinating is this sight that we miss the small sign and side trail into Pyramid Creek Camp and proceed along the trail.  The trail crossng at Pyramid Creek isour first warning that we'd missed the camp.  A brief exploration of the terrain on the other side of the creek (if somehow, this was maybe a last channel of Kautz Creek) confirms that judgment.  We backtrack, find the side trail into the camp and set up.  It's later than we planned but we are in the tent before dark with all chores complete, to include hanging food on the bear pole using an eight-foot length of conduit.

(to be continued)