Friday, December 27, 2013

Appalachian Trail Known Knowledge

Page 9 of the The Onion Book of Known Knowledge, which came to me as a Christmas present from an old friend, presents the following entry for the Appalachian Trail:
2,180 mile-long path along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States that is the worst, least efficient way to travel from Georgia to Maine.  Traversed each year by those who deny the existence of America's vast transportation system for some inexplicable reason, the Appalachian trail takes roughly four months to hike but can be covered in two days by car, 26 hours by rail, or five  hours by plane--three fully air-conditioned means of conveyance that offer zero chance of getting bitten by mosquitoes, spraining an ankle, or going weeks without bathing.  If one absolutely must walk from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin, a for more sensible choice would be to use Interstate 95:  It's a straight shot, and there are plenty of stores and hotels along the way so that one doesn't have to travel across 14 states while carrying 50 pounds of gear.  Overall, hiking the Appalachian trail offers nothing but the chance to grow a mangy beard and waste time.  It literally defies logic.
Pretty accurate as to the facts stated.  The writer presents all  key facts about the AT:  length, termini, number of states, and some typical risks.  Hiking time is not entirely accurate.  Some can thru-hike in four months; six months is more typical.  The writer is correct in stating that planes, trains and motor vehicles are a faster way to Maine from Georgia than walking.  I definitely agree that thru-hiking the AT defies logic but have my own conclusion about its worth.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A December Hike

13-14 December 1993.  GaliuroWilderness, Arizona.  Late afternoon at Powers Garden.  This trip repeats one of my earliest Arizona hikes.  Seemed easier this time.  Experience and conditioning probably.  Came in with Gary from Deer Creek, starting about 12:30 after driving down from Phoenix.  We made good time walking--got in around 5:30 but had to set up and eat in the dark.  December days are short on light.  The trail was generally good and not hard to follow although it was hard for me to match the actual terrain to the topo map.  We had lots of good views to the north and saw some pretty spectacular sandstone cliffs at the junction of Horse Canyon and Rattlesnake Creek.  Deep pools in the area would be inviting if they are still here in the summer.  Powers Garden is much as I remember, a very lush riparian zone.  The long night is cold; I'm pushing the limits of my gear. 

Morning is colder still and slow to warm.  Little sun reaches this canyon till later in the day.  We eat and rig up before shedding our outer clothing.  The trail leads down Rattlesnake Creek for about a mile.  We step over frost covered leaves.  The climb up the flanks of Kennedy Peak warms us up--the day is clear and cool but the sun is warm.  We take several leisurely breaks as we climb, especially toward the crest where  much of southern Arizona comes into view.  We pass through patches of snow descending the north side of the ridge.  The terrain is open here as we begin the final descent to Deer Creek. As we wonder about some trail uncertainty, we encounter an unsigned junction and after make what proves to be a correct choice.  Now we're back on the rolling terrain encountered at the hike's start, completing our loop. The late afternoon light here provides a spectacular highlight to the red outcroppings and the grassy foothills.

A contemporary account

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Belated November Anniversary

The trip ended in November so yes, it is a November anniversary even if it began in October.    October 30, 1983 to be exact, my first hike into the Grand Canyon.   I'd moved to Arizona the year before and visited the South Rim in February.  During a May visit to Virginia after I planted the seeds for this trip and now three friends--Bev Wilson, Greg and Catharine Moser--were joining me for this hike.  By this time Catharine was pregnant so she and Greg explored Northern Arizona while Bev and I hiked the South Kaibab Trail seven miles to Bright Angel Campground deep inside the Canyon.

Starting out I'm pretty excited with lots of energy.

By the time we reach the Colorado river Bev still has enough energy to smile but I distinctly recall I was pretty beat by this time.  I don't think we made it to the evening beer hall at Phantom Ranch.  If we did, I know we did not stay long.

This trip was my first shooting B&W film.  I was taking my first photography class at Phoenix College that fall and was exploring camera technique as much as the Canyon.

Second day in the Canyon Bev and I followed the trail out to Zoroaster Canyon on north side of the Colorado.  We had to climb a bit out of Bright Angel but after that it was mostly contour walking.  Back in camp we did make the beer hall.  It was Hallowe'en and some were in costume.  That took energy and planning that I sure did not have.

Next morning we began the nine mile climb to the South Rim on the Bright Angel Trail.  It was a long, steady climb out that took seven or eight hours.  Greg and Catharine were waiting for us at the trailhead and took us back to their site at the campground.  Bev and I showered before we all headed back to Bright Angel Lodge for dinner.  After dinner we hung out in the lobby by the large fireplace staying warm before heading back to our sleeping bags on this chilly first night in November.

The rest of the trip took us out East Rim Drive to Desert Watchtower before leaving the park and heading across the Navajo and Hopi Reservations.  Along the route we passed Steamboat Rock, a feature I would come to know well in future years.

We ended up in the campground at Canyon de Chelly National Mounument camped under cottonwood trees whose brilliant yellow foliage seemed to glow on a moonless night.  In the morning we drove the rim drive and hiked down to White House Ruins.  Our final day on the road took us throug Petrified Forest National Park before heading back to Phoenix.

In one short week, I previewed much of my life in Arizona.  I was happy with that preview.  I am happy with how it all turned out.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A November Hike

11-15 November 1988.  Grand Canyon, Arizona. 

Camped at Hance Rapids after an 8 mile walk down from the rim.  The trail was fair but very steep and rugged.  My knees were screaming at me by the time I was halfway down.  I've not hiked much lately and my pack is damn heavy with five days gear.  Leroy loaned me his hiking staff which helped a lot.  I'm glad tomorrow will be a short day.  Good planning, Mark.  It's 5:20 now and evening is coming on quickly.  A few red clouds are peeking over the inner rim on the north side but the mostly clear sky contrasts with the Canyon's darker hues.  The river is generally clear and green; the rapids provide a constant sound.  After a long, hard trip down, it feels very nice to be warm, fed and relaxed.

Second night out finds me at Hance Creek after a six mile walk.  Not a bad day.  My legs are considerably better--I had little trouble on the Tonto today although the downhill sections required a bit of careful stepping.  We had nice views of Mineral Canyon as we contoured across it and the same for Hance Canyon as we came to the creek.  Both are deep sheer caynons with rocky ledges.  Hance Canyon has lots of water and lots of vegetation, including some tall cottonwoods.  The cottonwoods are the largest thing I've seen growing in the Canyon and are showing fall color.  Today has been a rest day mostly.  We spent the afternoon laying about--it's been wonderfully lazy--in preparation for three 10 to 12 mile days.

Another day's hike brings us to Grapevine Creek where water is scarce but available in potholes.  It's the last water for 16 miles so we'll have to be careful in our use while maintaining our physical requirements.  The hike over from Hance Creek was fairly easy; we covered 10 miles in about five hours.  The route offers good views of Horseshoe Mesa, Cottonwood and Grapevine Canyons.  The light in Hance Canyon this morning was soft; it streamed through gaps in the buttes.  Weather was cool and excellent for walking.  Last night also turned out to be quite nice.  The canyon is very lush and green and looked quite pretty against the deep red walls.  Wildlife was abundant today--we saw two groups of bighorn sheep:  a ram and four ewes and another ram and three ewes.  Tomorrow is the first of our two 12 mile days that will spring us from the Canyon.

On this fourth night I guess I'm glad I brought my little tent after all.  Camped at Cremation Creek, waiting out a shower that looks to be part of a large front that started moving in yesterday.  Last night was the Night of the Wind Tunnel with strong gusts blowing through Grapevine Canyon all night.  Now the wind and rain are whipping about the tent but I am reasonably snug and dry.  So far.  I just hope it lets up for dinner.  The storm is about the only adverse thing that's occurred on this trip.  My legs loosened up once I got going on the Tonto.  We've been covering about two miles an hour since.  We hiked 12 miles today, carrying all of our water for tonight and four miles of tomorrow.  We could see all the way up the Canyon to Desert View from our route today.  Every now and then we caught glimpses of the Colorado in its black gorge.  The river looks almost turquoise today.  In all this has been a great trip:  five days in the Canyon has taken my mind off everything except this wonderful place.

Now I'm heading back to Phoenix after coming out the Bright Angel Trail.  Last night was a fierce one.  The first shower let up long enough for us to eat dinner but a second storm hit just as we finished up.  I literally dove into my tent to wait out what became a heavy two hour downpour.  My tent leaked a bit at the seams (poor maintenance!!) but I stayed warm and dry despite the leaks.  Rain continued off and on throughout the night with some fierce winds but the sky cleared by morning so we were able to pack up and get out dry.  The storm left behind much colder temperatures and snow on the rim.   

Hiking out of Cremation was quite spectacular, with the morning light playing off the snow on the buttes, mesas and rim. We moved out briskly in the cool morning air and were at Indian Gardens by about 10:30.  We reached the rim two hours later, after hiking up a cold, icy trail.  Showers on the rim felt great but I am sad to see such a great trip end.  Despite the difficult walk down Red Canyon on the first day and the subsequent soreness, I felt pretty good throughout the trip.  Company was good and I enjoyed once again the wonderful confines of the Grand Canyon.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Skyline Trail Day Hike

On a sunny Saturday two weeks ago I hiked the Skyline Loop Trail in Mount Rainier NP with my friend Scott.  This was our third Mount Rainier hike this year and one of the very few loop trips within my walking range these days.  We could not have asked for a better day.  We walked counterclockwise, starting from the busy visitor center with a fair amount of company.  Didn't take long to encounter snow which was common off and on for the entire route.  Snow was deep in places after some big storms but sufficiently well-trod to be well packed.   I post-holed a couple of times and had to pay a lot of attention to my footing but had no problems.  By the end of the six miles, though, I was tired and my hip was beginning to hurt.

We had exceptional views.  To the north was Rainier's mass loomed over us, up close and personal.  Immediately south was the Tatoosh Range.  Beyond were more Cascade ridges and peaks.  As we climbed higher, Mount Adams came into view, dominating the far horizon.  Barely visible farther beyond, we could see the pyramid shape of Mount Hood.  Looking southwest, we saw that we had climbed well above the saddle below Eagle Peak that was our destination in September.  Mount Saint Helens was in the far distance.

But most of all, we had sunlight, lots of it.  The world felt open and wide and we were walking on top of it.

A few images:
Starting out

Cascades and Tatoosh in the southeast

Snow scrambling

As close as we got

More Tatoosh

Mount Adams

Mt. Saint Helens, Eagle Peak and Nisqually River


Myrtle Falls

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Adventures in Transit and Shutdown

Yesterday I went to Seattle to review a veteran's file at the Veterans Affairs regional office.  The trip was my first on the newly-inaugurated express bus to Seattle from Olympia.  It's definitely nice to board at the first stop where seats are plentiful instead of making a Seattle connection at the 512 Park and Ride where I compete with fellow travelers from the entire South Sound for the few remaining seats.  The entire trip door-to-door began at 6:30 and took two and a half hours in typical rush hour traffic.  I might have been able to drive in less time but then I'd face Seattle's very high parking rates.  Bussing it costs much less and I get to zone out or read instead of fighting traffic.

Going to the VA was a leap of faith since the federal government is shut down.  I'd seen a VA contingency plan that gave what looked like mixed messages.  I called the 800 number and found it working.  The representative told me the office would be open.  She was correct; the door was open and staff in the office when I arrived after passing through the near-full TSA security screening (at least I did not have to remove my shoes) to enter the federal building.  The veteran's file I had requested--six inches in two volumes--was waiting for me.  Staff told me that I could not obtain copies "today". They did not say but I guess the reason is that the copy staff probably were furloughed.  I would have been out of luck if I needed to copy anything.

As it was I did not expect to need copies.  I obtained a complete copy by mail about two and a half years ago when I first picked up the veteran's case.  I wanted to see if anything useful might be missing in the copy provided and check on my most recent filing.  I also just wanted to see what an original file looks like.  A few weeks ago I visited the VA regional office to represent another veteran at a hearing and took the opportunity to make a few inquiries at the benefits intake office there.  The experience was a useful one for me as a veterans advocate.  I figured that seeing an original file would be useful as well.

The case is a long one.  The veteran first filed the claim in 1966.  I am the most recent of quite a few agents to represent the veteran during the many years.  He is my first "client", a word I hesitate to use because I'm doing this as a volunteer.  His file is a genuine education and a real challenge.  The claim has been adjudicated by the Board of Veterans Appeals three times and the veteran has been awarded compensation.  One issue remains unresolved.  The review took almost five hours.  Even so, that was quick.  I just had to compare the file documents to an index of the copy,  flipping pages and making notes as I went.  I did not see anything I had haven't already seen and am confident that I have every important document plus a lot of chaff from the original file.    

My workspace was decent enough but would have been crowded if a second person was also reviewing files. Lighting was marginal early on but once the morning fog lifted and the sun got higher in the sky I had plenty of light from a couple of south facing windows which also afforded a good street level view of First Avenue.  I could relieve my eyes by watching an ever-changing parade of people.  Behind me I could hear bits and pieces of employee conversations on this fourth day of shut down.  I heard some discussion but picked up no detail about pay procedures and recognized some black humor from sound of the voices.   Mostly, I just plowed through the stack of documents in front of me.

The ride home took about the same time even with changing buses at the 512 Park and Ride.  I boarded Lakewood express on Second Avenue around 2:00 pm just down from the federal building.  It was mostly full.  I found a open two seats in the back and the adjacent seat did not fill during the remaining few Seattle stops before we hit I-5.  The view of Mount Rainier was pretty spectacular on this bright, sunny day.  After a week of heavy rain the mountain is once again clad all in white and sparkling.  The exposed rock so prominent at the end of summer is no longer visible.  The southbound express makes a loop through Tacoma before making the final distance to the Park and Ride.  We arrive at the Park and Ride just in time for me to catch the bus to Olympia.

Traffic coming south from Seattle didn't seem too bad but we are no sooner back on I-5 than the traffic is bumper-to-bumper.  Not too surprising on a Friday afternoon.  We creep past the military base formerly known as Fort Lewis. Traffic is still heavy into Olympia but moves a lot faster.  I get off near the Capitol Campus around 4:15.  

Total round-trip: 10 hours.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Eagle Peak Day Hike

Hiked the Eagle Peak Trail at Mount Rainier NP on Saturday with a friend.  We're on the trail by 10:30 after a two and a half hour drive out from Olympia.  The fog that has blanketed the area all morning lifts as soon as we enter the park and we are treated to a spectacular, sunny day.  The well-maintained, easy-to follow trail climbs 2,950 feet in three and a half miles and makes for a steady ascent along numerous switchbacks.  The trail is, in fact, all switchbacks--some long, some short--with an overall 15 percent grade.  Some parts are much steeper.

The early morning trail is cool under the forest canopy.  The long switchbacks here make for decent, if not exactly easy walking.  There's no variation in grade; the trail simply climbs as far as the eye can see.  We make slow but steady progress, always up.

After about two hours, including a lunch break, we come to an open meadow above treeline.  The meadow is steeply inclined and its wildflowers are past their peak.  We get our first grand views of the Nisqually River Valley and the mountains in the south and west.  Immediately before us is the ridge separating Eagle and Chutla Peaks, a jagged edge of granite towering over the meadow and the distant slopes.  Now the climb is much, much steeper and fully exposed to the mid-day sun.  On top of all the climbing so far, this last ascent comes hard.

The trail ends on the saddle between Eagle and Chutla Peaks.  The saddle offers a grand view of Rainier, looming large immediately to our north.  We are looking directly across to the great gray "V" carved into Rainier's south face by the Nisqually glacier and river.  Below the mountaintop we can see visitor center and lodge complex at Paradise. It looks pretty puny compared to the mountain behind it.  Looking south we can see Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens.

The trail down seems even steeper than it was coming up and it's damned hot in the direct afternoon sun.  I am happy to regain the cover of the forest canopy.  Even here, though, it's much brighter and warmer than it was on the climb up.  Seems longer, too.  Once we are back on good trail the walking is easier.  it's actually walking rather than climbing down those long steps just below the saddle.  Still, the day's toll is beginning to show.  My ball joints are throbbing with each step.  My hip is doing pretty well but I'm just plain tired.  I'm very happy to see the trailhead again.

This is my second hike using trekking poles.  I especially liked having them for the climb down from the saddle and during the hike back to the car.  They certainly made the descent much easier and give me a greater sense of stability on the trail.  Trying to do anything with my hands is cumbersome but I found myself adapting to that challenge; I don't think the poles were as cumbersome as the first time I used them.

In all, a nice hike on was may be the last truly sunny day in western Washington for a while.  Here's what it looked like.

Morning trail up

A stream

Above treeline

More above treeline

Still more

Mid-day exposed trail up


 View from Eagle Saddle

Trail down

Late afternoon mountain with Nisqually River suspension bridge

Friday, August 30, 2013

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Day 8

30 August 1986.  We move out quickly on Saturday morning--it's too cold to dawdle.  Besides, we have a bus to catch.  Our tents are wet but we don't need them again on this trip.  We make a beeline for Stevens Pass, the first road we will encounter since Snoqualmie Pass.  Powerlines over the trail crackle in the mist.  We meet a surprising number of hikers along the way.  But for the rain I envy them.  We make Stevens Pass in about 2 hours.  Stevens Pass is even more deserted than our starting point.  Nothing is open so we wait in the cold and damp for the bus which is about a half hour late.  A couple other hikers join us.  I am wearing every piece of warm clothing by the time the bus arrives.  We toss our packs into the baggage compartment and pile in.  The bus is warm and crowded.  It stops in Skykomish for a five minute break.  We bolt across the road to a deli for a hot dog and coke before settling in for the ride to Seattle.

Showers and food at my cousin's house officially end the trip.  Greg, Colleen and Gary head in their various directions.  That night I tour Seattle's bars and restaurants with two cousins, Amy’s (remember Amy?) mom Pat and her sister Kathy visiting from Spokane.  We make a valiant effort to sample many of the 33 brands of draft beer at one bar.  An amazing end for a day that began in the cold and wet of Lake Susan Jane. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Day 7

29 August 1986Friday is cold, misty and wet.  Typical northwest weather has arrived.  The sky was clear when we crashed last night so I was surprised to see the morning fog.  We break camp in the rain and head out, hoping that the fog will lift.  It does not.  We move out pretty briskly since it's too cold to stop for very long.  The fog eliminates any views we might otherwise have.  We did see some adjacent ridges swathed in fog but our views are of the misty forest with its towering trees, ethereal in the the mist.  The cold and wet spur us to move briskly and we reach Lake Susan Jane in less than six hours.  We put our ingenuity to work and rig another shelter for dinner.  Today is colder so we are in the tents much earlier tonight. 

Facing the end of the trip is a time of reflection.  I am amazed at the past week, at the places that I have walked to and through.  The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is wonderfully beautiful and largely unspoiled.  I find it satisfying that I have the skill and willingness to visit this place and experience it so intimately for an extended time.  Comprehending a place like this is impossible in a day or weekend trip.  Even a week is insufficient but it does allow the opportunity to experience the wilderness' profound grandeur.  This place is life itself--water, rock and soil nurture and support life.  No human hand could ever create this although human hands could easily destroy it.  Tonight's the night for Long Trip Philosophy.

Hard rain falls.  I listen to it pound the tent while comfortably wrapped in my sleeping bag.