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March 10th, 2009

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10:15 am - What goes down must come up
Jon and I got back on Saturday from our fantastic spring break trip to the Grand Canyon. A picture is worth a thousand words, but they fall far short of the real thing. It is breathtaking.

February 28:
We did the last of our packing, got on and off a couple planes, went to Flagstaff, slept in hostel WAY too close to train tracks and were awakened seventeen times by the train whistle.

March 1, my dad's birthday:
We got up pretty early and took a shuttle to the Grand Canyon. When we got there, we stashed our stuff for the day and started walking the rim. We were amazed by how big it is in person. I knew in my mind that it's 277 miles and that Dallas to Houston is about 250 miles, but it's really incredible to get there and look out and have it continue for as far as you can see. We went to the little grocery store to pick up some bread, cheese, and veggies for lunch and dinner and ate sandwiches next to the rim. We saw a good number of deer, which was neat, and which continued throughout the trip. After walking most of the rim trail, we retrieved our belongings and went out to set up our tent for the night. We camped in Mather campground near the rim. We ate our sandwich dinner and got everything we could ready for the next day, including buying some water for the hike and toilet paper just in case. (Safety first-that's our motto.) I am not too good at sleeping in a tent, and even though I had gotten a new fancy 20 degree rated sleeping bag, I was a little chilly that night (lows were in the mid 20s), and the hard ground didn't make my hips feel very good. I didn't sleep too well, but since we got to bed around 7:30 (it gets dark quickly without electricity) and got up around 6:40, I got enough to function.

March 2:
The main point of our trip was to hike down all the way into the canyon and camp there and then hike out. This was our day to hike down. We (I) dawdled a bit in the morning but finally got the backpacks packed and onto the South Kaibab trailhead around 8:15. The forecast was for unseasonably hot weather, and we had been encouraged to get out by 7, but being used to the Houston heat, we weren't too worried about 80 degrees and dry. The top of the trail had some snow in a couple places but wasn't slippery.  (We hadn't gotten crampons to improve our traction, even though they were recommended.  We live life on the edge.)  It was pretty steep, and due to a very painful fall on a trail in Turkey, I am very slow and cautious about downhills, so I took my time.  We stopped to get water, eat, shed layers as the sun and descent warmed us up, and take in the incredible views around every corner.  The South Kaibab is the more scenic of the two trails going down into the canyon, and we had wonderful and varied views throughout the hike.  There were a couple bathrooms on the way.  I was grateful.  I like hiking, but I am really not a fan of peeing in the woods.  On our way down, we saw a woman sitting on the trail.  Oddly enough, she had taken the same shuttle we had to the Grand Canyon the previous day.  She had fallen and hurt her leg and couldn't stand up.  She wasn't in pain when she was sitting, and she said she had enough food and water and had seen other hikers before us, so we said we would tell the mule wranglers we saw and call on the emergency phone down the trail.  We did that and later heard that she had been flown to a hospital but would be fine.  I was reminded several times on the trip that it is very possible to get injured or exhausted and not get help or not get help in time, either because no one will see you or you will be too far away from services to get help.  Besides worrying about her, our hike down was pretty nice.  After about the halfway point, we saw and heard some birds overhead and realized they were California condors.  That was so cool!  It's getting more and more common for people to see them at the Grand Canyon.  We saw one a few days later, in fact, at the rim.  They were so graceful overhead, and they made a whooshing sound like an airplane.  I guess since they're scavengers we should have been a little worried that they were swooping over us so much, but it was so cool to see them.  We got down to the bottom around 1:15, five hours after we started, a little weary and either dehydrated or desalted.  We found a campsite at the Bright Angel campground, set up our tent, and ate some food to replenish us.  Then we just wandered around a little bit.  The campground is next to the Bright Angel creek, which was very lovely and pleasant.  We went to a ranger talk about the trails, and although it did not have the information we expected about the history of the trails, he was a funny guy with some neat stories about backpacking in the canyon.  When I hear really hard-core hikers/backpackers talking about their exploits, I always want to drop everything and go do what they've done.  Then I realize that I'm in no kind of shape for that, nor do I have the orienteering skills necessary or the places to practice near home.  But it's fun to imagine.  We went to bed pretty early again that night.  It's about 20 degrees warmer at the river than it is at the rim, so I slept a little better that night.

March 3:
We got up early and hit a trail by 7:20.  There were a couple options, but we decided to take the pretty flat North Kaibab Trail, which followed the Creek, up to Ribbon Falls if we could make it (about 6 miles).  We were both excruciatingly sore from the day before, although I was a little worse off than Jon, and while I could do uphills pretty well, downhills were torture.  It got somewhat better over the course of the day, and I know that walking was better than just sitting around letting my muscles get tight, but every step was a struggle.  Jon and I had decided that no matter what we would turn around at noon, although either one of us was allowed to decide to turn around at any time.  Jon was confident we wouldn't make it to the falls, but I had seen the estimated time of the round trip at 4-8 hours, so I was pretty sure we'd get there.  Around 10:15, however, I was starting to feel a bit fatigued, so I suggested we turn around.  He decided to drop the backpack and go up a ways to see whether the falls were close.  Indeed they were, so re-energized by the prospect of waterfalls, we went up to them.  Along the way we stopped by the creek to refill our water.  We had taken 3 liters and some iodine tablets to purify more.  We were pretty excited about using them.  They came with taste neutralizing tablets, and they worked very well.  It was sad, though, to get that crystal clear water from the creek, put the iodine in and make it all brown, and then put the neutralizing tablets in to end up with white chalky looking stuff.  I am happy with the system, though, and will use it again if hiking near a stream.  It was nice not to have to carry so much water.  Water is so heavy.  The falls were not magnificent, but it was a nice reward to get to see them.  We didn't go all the way up to be able to splash in them because the trail got to be very steep and uncertain.  The return trip didn't take as long as the trip out because our muscles were a little looser and I had to pee and wanted to make it to a bathroom.  (This was a recurring theme throughout the trip.)  We hadn't seen anyone at all on the trip out to the falls, but we saw maybe five hikers on our way back and a few people fishing once we got close to the campground.  After writing some postcards that afternoon, we went to our splurge dinner of the hiking trip.  In addition to a campground, there is Phantom Ranch, which has cabins with electricity and water and such, and they have a kitchen and serve meals every night.  We had reserved a hot dinner there, and it was nice to have.  There was a nice salad, cornbread, beef stew for the meaties, vegetarian chili for the veggies, and chocolate cake for dessert.  Jon and I both ate a good amount.  Even though we had brought a lot of food with us, I think we hadn't been getting enough calories and sodium overall, so it was good to get a meal that supplied plenty of both.  We were really tired by the time dinner was done, so we got as much ready as we could for our hike out the next day and then went to bed.

March 4:
It was our day to hike out.  We wanted to get started as soon as possible to avoid the sun and heat as long as possible, so after we woke up we got our packs together quickly and hit the trail by 7.  We went up via the Bright Angel trail, which is longer than the South Kaibab but less steep.  We had debated about which one to do.  If I were to do it again, I would take the South Kaibab both ways, but it was nice to see the trail and have some different views.  Most of the extra length of the Bright Angel is in the first half, so it was much less steep than the last half.  It started out going uphill for a while and then downhill for a long time, which was disheartening, but soon went up more steadily.  We got to the halfway point in just under three hours, which was nice.  I had been budgeting an hour per mile, so I was hoping to get up there by noon.  Getting there two hours early was heartening.  We refilled our water and started up again.  We were still really sore, and every time we stopped and started again we had to combat the stiffness for a few minutes, but we did a better job of keeping ourselves in food and water than on the way down.  I was getting pretty tired by the end, but what goes down must come up, so I knew I had to keep pushing.  I wouldn't have minded if the trail had been a mile shorter.  There were a few patches of ice near the top, and we had to go slowly through them.  I almost slipped twice, but in the end both of us got through without incident.  It is fairly common for people to do day hikes down the Bright Angel trail to the 1.5- or 3-mile marks, so as we neared the top, we saw more and more people.  There was a pretty large group of teenage Japanese tourists we saw a lot.  It always seemed like we passed them while they were taking a break, and then about thirty seconds after we passed, they would get up again and pass us (because they were day hikers and therefore less tired and carrying less stuff than we were).  One of them had a music player in his pocket playing Japanese pop songs.  If it had been louder, I would have thought it really obnoxious, and since I was very tired and cranky I found it slightly obnoxious.  You don't come to the Grand Canyon to listen to pop music.  I realized it had been several days since I had been bombarded by music, TV, or advertising, and I didn't miss the constant barrage, nor was I ready to encounter it again.  But the music wasn't audible more than a few feet from him, so I didn't try to ask him to turn it off.  When we got to the top, we just sat around for a while and then went to set up our tent again.  It was pretty chilly and windy at the rim, and I missed the balmy river weather.  We hadn't changed clothes or showered in days, so we were very pleased to discover that we could get showers at the campground.  It was $2 for eight minutes, and they were eight blissful minutes for me.  I could have gone longer, but I felt very refreshed when I got out.  After changing, setting up the tent, and eating some dinner, we went to catch sunset.  We had missed it our first day, and Jon really wanted to see it.  I am fairly indifferent towards sunsets.  They are never as spectacular as I think they should be.  Perhaps it's because I live in a city with enough air pollution that they are really hazy and colorful, and a sunset in dry, clean air just doesn't diffuse the same way.  But we went and saw the sunset, and it was quite nice but got cold very quickly afterwards.  I'm not used to the way dry air just cools down after the sun sets.  It was going to be a cold night, so we bundled up and went to bed.

March 5:
This was our last day at the Canyon, and we had scheduled a shuttle back to Flagstaff at 6 pm.  We "slept in" (stayed in the tent kind of late, although the sun woke us up pretty early), packed up, and spent the day on the part of the rim we hadn't seen on our first day.  We took a combination of our feet and the free shuttle buses to the various lookout points on the Hermit route.  We were occasionally foiled by my bladder and had to take detours to the nearest bathrooms, which were sometimes miles away, but we had a really low-key, fun day looking at the canyon from more vantage points.  I really liked it when they had information placards with the names of various features.  Some of the early explorers of the canyon named the formations after all manner of deities: Vishnu Temple, Wotan's Throne, Buddha Temple, Temple of Jupiter, etc.  We could also turn around and see some of the mountains near Flagstaff in the background.  At 4 pm, we went to a ranger program about California condors, and there was one sitting near the top of the Bright Angel trail sunning himself.  A nice lady had a telescope trained on him, so we got to see him a little more clearly than the ones we had seen on the trail.  He was not attractive.  Their heads are bald, and they look very vulture-like.  It's quite a contrast to the grace they show in the air.  We learned a lot about the way the condor lives and the program in place to save them and get them back into the wild.  Most of them have been bred in captivity, but there have been a few hatched in the wild recently.  The Grand Canyon is a good place for them because it's protected and they have such great winds to ride.  They can go up to an hour without flapping their wings.  I want to be a bird.  We took the shuttle back to Flagstaff that night and arrived at a bed and breakfast we had chosen to pamper ourselves with at the end of the trip.  (Hostels and camping are cheap, so we evened it out a little with the b&b.)  After checking in and chatting with the owners, we were pretty hungry, so we went to a restaurant and microbrewery nearby.  We had been eating little snacks all day, so we weren't able to eat a lot at one time.  We split an appetizer hummus and fancy pizza and had a flight of all the beers they had.  It was fun, and we went back to our room and enjoyed a hot shower and warm bed.

March 6:
This was our one full day in Flagstaff.  After a yummy breakfast of Southwest eggs benedict, fruit, yogurt, and sweet bread, we got ourselves all-day bus passes and went out to the Museum of Northern Arizona to learn about the geology and anthropology of the Colorado plateau.  It was a pretty good museum, and the gift shop had a lot of beautiful Native American crafts.  Then we went up to the Northern Arizona University campus and poked around in their art museum.  They had an exhibit of faculty artists' works, and there were some really cool ones.  We had hot dogs and French fries for lunch, and then we were kind of out of things to do that weren't too far away.  Flagstaff is a small town with a lot of little shops, but we aren't big little shoppers.  It's also near a lot of cool geology other than the Grand Canyon, such as Meteor Crater and Sunset Crater, a volcanic crater, but they're inaccessible without a car.  If we went back, I might rent a car for the day to get out to see those things.  If the weather had been warmer and our calves had been less sore, we might have rented bikes to go to one of the close ones.  We poked around the downtown area some, used our bus pass to go out to the farmers' market, where we got some taffy, and then went back for a nap in our room.  For dinner we had Thai food that was good but a little too spicy for me.  After that we walked up to Lowell Observatory to check out their nighttime program.  They had some exhibits that really made me think about how vast space is.  Unfortunately, the big telescope couldn't come out because of the wind, but they had a small telescope trained on the moon, a couple star clusters, and Saturn, and it was really cool to see them.  They also had some historical stuff.  Pluto was discovered at Lowell, and Lowell himself had been very close in predicting where it was, although he died before it was discovered.  We also got to see the Kepler mission take off.  It was cool to see pieces fall off as it got further and further from Earth.  We called a shuttle to take us back to our b&b because it was really cold outside and we didn't want to walk the two miles or so.

March 7:
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:14 am, so after breakfast of crepes with cream sauce, fruit, and sweet bread, we got all ready to go.  We had scheduled a shuttle to pick us up at 10, but at 10:10, it still hadn't come.  I called a couple times, but there was no answer, so the b&b people graciously gave us a ride.  I never heard from the shuttle guy, which was weird because I had confirmed the reservation twice, but in the end we got a free ride instead of having to pay, so it worked out.  Flagstaff is a tiny airport, so the fact that we were a little later than usual to the airport didn't matter at all.  We checked our big backpack and asked the lady whether the peanut butter and Nutella we had would be allowed through security.  She laughed at us for asking, but then it was confiscated, so I was righteously indignant.  I get more angry about stuff like that than I should (it was only $4 or something), but I got over it eventually.  It was sad, though, because I was looking forward to Nutella on Wasa crackers for lunch in the Phoenix airport.  Plus it's just wrong to throw away perfectly good food.  That minor annoyance aside, we got back to Houston and were home again.  It was a great trip, and we are looking forward to going back again someday.  We might try to go to the North Rim and some national parks in Utah the next time.

Current Mood: happyhappy

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:March 11th, 2009 11:11 am (UTC)
sounds like an amazing trip, Ev! I'm glad you guys had a good time, and made it out safely. Will you post pics anywhere? -Justin
[User Picture]
Date:March 11th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
Yep, they'll be on facebook sometime in the next week or so.

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