Friday, April 30, 2010

Grand Canyon :: From Indian Gardens to The Rim

It was getting dark as we returned from Plateau Point. We had a quick supper then laid our sleeping bags and pads on the tarp. No tent. It would be my first time sleeping under the stars. It had cooled down quickly with the darkness and we didn't waste any time crawling into the sleeping bags. The night sky was filled with bright, brilliant stars. Amazing. During our brief visit, I had told Craig Manson that the night sky at Big Bed was incredible, but here in the Grand Canyon it was even more so. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that there was nothing between me and the sky! Several times I woke up during the night and simply gazed at all of the stars in the sky.

I awoke at first light, made a quick trip to take care of the necessities, and sat at the picnic table wrapped in the sleeping bag to wait for Sue and Fred to wake up. I was a little stiff, partially from sleeping on the ground but also from yesterday's hikes. I was dreading the trek that was to come yet oddly looking forward to it. I recalled a sign posted alongside the trail at the 3-mile rest-house “Getting to the bottom, OPTIONAL. Getting to the top, MANDATORY.” We hadn't gone to the bottom, but still, the only way out was up, and you had to walk it.

It was another beautiful day! The sun had finally crested the rim, throwing it's warming rays into the Canyon. The coolness of the early morning spurred us on. We were packed and on the trail at 7 o'clock.

A group of half a dozen small deer greeted us at the 3-mile rest-house.

The Rim. The end. The beginning. Taken from the 3-mile rest-house a few minutes after 8 a.m.

Indian Gardens and Plateau Point, with the North Rim in the background. Photo taken at 9:45, near the 1.5-mile rest-house.

Look, we're smiling! That's because we know we're near the top (we were just 7 minutes away at the time) and almost finished with a fantastic experience. It was worth every ache and pain along the way (and the ones for several days after).

The trek to the top took not quite five hours. We left Indian Springs at 7 a.m. and arrived at the rim at 11:50. We celebrated by stopping at the Bright Angel Lodge Dining Room for a hot meal then back to the campground for a hot shower! The rest of the day was spent resting, relaxing, and recuperating, though the latter took several more days for me!

Thank you so much Sue and Fred for allowing me to join you on this trek. I've said it before, and I'll say it again – it was AMAZING! And possibly the most challenging and fantastic thing I've done on this journey, or ever!

Other posts in this series:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grand Canyon :: Indian Gardens to Plateau Point

This is the third installment, before continuing you might want to read the first and second parts of the story! For whatever reason, most likely just plain tired, I didn't get any pictures of our campsite. Like all of the sites at Indian Gardens it had a picnic table with a shelter over it along with metal boxes in which to store your food and toiletries (the odors will draw the critters). After a brief rest we ate our lunch of pita bread sandwiches, protein bars, and trail mix. For some reason it tasted quite good!

Then it was off to our second destination of the day – Plateau Point, which lies 1.5 miles north over a relatively easy trail. The trail to Plateau Point can be seen in the second photo of the second post in this series.

As we were coming off the last switchback and down into the canyon at Indian Gardens we had noticed a change. More trees, brighter green, and glorious Red Bud trees in full bloom! Just beyond the campground, alongside the stream, there was a grove of Red Buds. Their flowers contrasted brightly against the green of the surrounding trees and the grass growing beneath their branches.

And the little cactus plants literally covered the ground in some spots. And they were nearly ready to burst forth into bloom! On the way out to Plateau Point, we saw just one cactus in bloom with gorgeous deep red flowers, but it was too far off the trail. However, on the way back, Fred spotted another blooming cactus, just a few feet away. I just had to stop and get a few pictures of it. Amazing color. And it wouldn't be long before the desert floor was carpeted with their color. It had to have been an incredible sight.

The view of the Colorado River from Plateau Point, looking east.

Looking west.

We spent several hours at Plateau Point. Much of the time we were alone and it was so peaceful and quiet. People would come and go, make noisy chit-chat, then leave us. For a while we watched a group of six Condors riding the air thermals until they disappeared into the distance. You could occasionally hear the water tumbling over the rapids far below. Ravens soared and swallows flitted over and around us. Sitting on the rocks, on the edge, yet in the middle of the Canyon is indescribable. As the sun lowered in the sky, the air took on a chill, and we reluctantly left Plateau Point.

We thought about staying and watching the sunset, but we didn't have any lights with us. Instead, we went back, got our lights, then walked to a point that provided a decent view. We knew we wouldn't be able to actually see the sun drop below the horizon but thought perhaps it's waning rays would add some color to the Canyon. It wasn't spectacular though it was quite nice. A fitting end to an incredible day. One that started out a little “iffy” but turned out great. We really couldn't have asked for a better day to make the trek into the Canyon. Quite memorable.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grand Canyon :: Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens

This is the second installment, before continuing you might want to read the first part of the story! Snow and fog notwithstanding, we continued on down the Bright Angel Trail toward Indian Gardens.

After about 45 minutes on the trail. Still a little snow, though somewhat muddy and slippery the trail was mostly clear. We were still taking our time with each step. But look out into the Canyon – we're beneath the fog! And the sun is coming through!

And now we can see our destination! It's that grove of green trees in the middle of the photo - Indian Springs. But we still had 3 1/2 miles to go... The thin line crossing the “flat” area beyond Indian Gardens is the trail to Plateau Point, which provides wonderful vistas of the Colorado River and the Canyon.

Several slight delays were encountered. When the mule trains came along we had to step aside to let them pass. Some carried cargo, like these.

While other mule trains carried passengers. As they passed by us, I noticed that very few of the people had smiles on their faces. Some of them looked downright uncomfortable.

From whence we had come - the point of the “V” at the top of the rim. This was taken at about 11 o'clock, between 2 and 2 1/2 miles into the Canyon. Very little of the trail can be seen.

This series of corkscrew switchbacks greeted us upon leaving the 3-mile rest stop at about noon.

It seemed like they would never end.

Indian Gardens, only forty-five minutes away. Walking within the Canyon gives you an entirely different perspective. What looks flat from above, isn't. It is rugged. From the rim it takes on a blue hue, but it is colorful. It is amazing. Beautiful. Stupendous. Magnificent. Glorious. Impressive. Awesome. Sensational. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. Spectacular. Dramatic. Majestic. Astonishing. Dazzling. The Grand Canyon is all of those things and more. It is also challenging. Dangerous. Formidable. Imposing. Powerful.

Almost there, just another half hour to go.

Weary feet. Taking a short break. We made it down to Indian Gardens in a little less than four hours, arriving at about 1 o'clock. We had traveled 4.6 miles and dropped 2,985 feet in elevation. We had gone from fog and snow and below freezing temperatures to bright sun and 70 degrees. A world of difference. We would spend the night at the campground, but first there was another little trek to be made before nightfall.

To be continued... part Three

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Grand Canyon :: Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens

Prior to our little adventure yesterday we had gone to the Backcountry Permit Office to see what was available for an overnight trip. Somehow, Sue and Fred had talked me into a little backpacking hike and an overnighter. It really didn't take much convincing on their part as I was ready for a little adventure. Sue and Fred have hiked all the way to the river previously, spending a night at Phantom Ranch, then stopping off a second night at the Indian Gardens campground, making the trek to the top the following day. They have also done a lot of hiking and backpacking to various other places. They had also “trained” for this trip. So they were “old pros” at this backpacking thing. Me? Never backpacked. Never slept under the stars. There's a first time for everything!

As it turns out, there was a spot open at the Indian Gardens Campground for the next day, Tuesday. We were warned that there was a chance of precipitation Monday afternoon, possibly even some snow Monday night. We went ahead and made the reservation anyway.

Monday afternoon, after our return from Cedar Ridge, the temperature dropped dramatically. It had started raining in the late afternoon but that rain quickly changed to snow! Big flakes. Wet flakes. Lots of them. At first it didn't stick, but we soon noticed it accumulating on the branches of trees. By the time we went to bed Monday night, there was about two inches of snow on the ground. And it was cold. It got even colder during the night. And the snow was still there on Tuesday morning.

The scene we awoke to on Tuesday morning.

It was pretty, but we really could have done without it! I guess Mother Nature just wanted us to be able to experience all facets of the Grand Canyon.

By the time we had breakfast and double checked to see that we had everything, the sun had come out. It was about 8:30 when we left for the trailhead. Fred dropped Sue and me off, parked the car in the overnight lot, and returned within a few minutes. Then we walked to the trailhead. When we got to the Canyon, another surprise awaited us!

Fog! Filling the Canyon! Yes, snow, we had expected. But fog? One amongst our party, who shall remain nameless (not me), wasn't sure that we should continue. It would be too slippery. We couldn't see. But the other two of us took the positive attitude (or perhaps, were a little crazy) “It will get better. The fog will go away. The snow won't be very far down.” On we went. This picture was taken at 8:42 a.m. just beyond the first turn into the canyon.

Sue and Fred at the first tunnel, just .18 miles from the rim and ten minutes into the hike. The tunnel is visible in the previous photo. It was slow going. It was slippery. We took our time. Others had gone down that path before us, so it had to be okay, right?

The view of the rim from the trail, 20 minutes into the hike.

One of the worst patches of the trail, about 30 minutes into the hike. Beneath that fresh layer of snow was a very thick layer of slippery ice. This section of the trail gets little, if any, sun.

To be continued... part two

Monday, April 26, 2010

Grand Canyon :: Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge

Our first foray into the Grand Canyon on Monday (April 12th) was a relatively short one; only a mile and a half in length, but it is also had a descent of 1140 feet, starting at an elevation of 7200 feet on the rim and ending at 6060 feet at Cedar Ridge. And, of course, what goes down must also come up! It took us an hour and 15 minutes to make the descent. The trail was in fairly good condition, no snow or ice. But what amazed me was that it took us just 15 minutes longer to make the climb back to the top! And we stopped along the way. A lot. At almost every turn of the switchbacks!

The description of the trail was given as “Maintained dirt trail. Steep. Well defined. Little shade on trail, mostly from canyon walls and dependent on time of day.” That really doesn't do it justice. It's rocky in many places. It had some pretty high steps. It's very steep. It's strenuous. It's challenging. It was fun! Really.

The view from the rim as we were starting out. It was a beautiful day. Sunshine. Blue skies. Cool temperatures just right for hiking with great company.

Switchbacks as you come down from the rim.

More switchbacks going down... did I mention that the trail was steep?

Sue and Fred, taking a break. (Photos of them, and those taken by them, used with their permission.)

Behind me is the section of trail we had just come down, one of the easier sections, I might add. Of course, we were still going down. It didn't look so easy going back up! (Photo by Sue.)

Back on the trail. Still going down.

Another steep section showing the rugged condition of the trail. It was difficult to maintain your stride in these sections with the logs across the path.

Our destination is in sight! The Kaibab trail continues on past the ridge then winds it's way down the next peak, eventually reaching the river some six miles or more away.

On the way down we had encountered several spots of gusty wind along the trail where we just had to stand still to maintain our footing until the wind passed by. When we reached the ridge plateau, there was a light breeze blowing. It was warm in the sunshine. It was very nice. We walked on out to the end of the ridge, that “pile” of rocks in the center of the photo, and ate our lunch. The wind picked up a little so we moved to a more protected spot and waited for the wind to die down.

During a little lull, we decided to climb back to the flat area. At one particularly narrow spot, the wind came up fast and furious. Sue and I were caught in a gust of wind, I grabbed her arm, not only to steady myself but to steady her as well. We weren't sure that we could keep our footing. It was a bit of a scary moment, it passed, but not soon enough for either of us! If we had fallen off, the drop to the next level was only a few feet, but still, we were more than a little concerned. All of a sudden the wind stopped and we literally ran off of that ledge. With the helping hand of another hiker we scrambled up the last few rocks onto level ground and quickly made our way to a somewhat safer area to settle our nerves.

Looking back at the section of trail that leads down to Cedar Ridge.

The final switchbacks going up to the rim. We're almost there! Thus far on my journey, this was the most challenging and difficult three-mile trek I've made. Was it worth it? Oh, yeah! Would I have made the trek if I had been alone? I'm not sure. I'm just glad that Sue and Fred were there to coax me along the trail. Thank you!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Grand Canyon :: First View

The sun was shining and the sky was blue when I arrived at the Grand Canyon Sunday afternoon (April 11th). Surely that was a good omen? There was just a little of the ever-present blue haze. I was early for the rendezvous with my friends Sue and Fred so I parked at the Visitor Center and walked out to Mather Point, which is usually the first view many visitors have of the Grand Canyon.

I've been here twice before but didn't venture much further than Mather Point, like many other visitors. Regardless of how many times you've been here or for how long you have stayed, or how many photographs you've seen, that first view of the Canyon is startling. There is no indication of anything unusual up ahead as you are driving across the Coconino Plateau from Flagstaff. It is, quite simply, breathtaking. Photographs just can't do it justice. But that didn't stop me from taking lots of pictures!

After about an hour of strolling along the South Rim, I drove on over to the Mather Campground, which would be my "home" for the next week. As I pulled into the check-in station, I noticed Fred and Sue standing in line - they had arrived just a few minutes before me. Perfect timing!

After getting settled into our campsites - they have a little pop-up trailer that didn't take long to get set up and I opted to not put up the tent because of the wind - we went to the Visitor Center to get maps and information and then took a walk along the South Rim. For me, it was the second time today, but as the light changes, so does the Canyon. Each viewing shows a different aspect, all are amazing and beautiful.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

California :: Moving On

My stay with Kathryn Doyle was a very pleasant and much needed “break” and I am indebted to her and her husband for their hospitality. I was also able to finally view the television series “American Faces” and “Who Do You Think You Are?” and thought that they were both well done and quite interesting. Thank you very much, Kathryn!

Leaving Oakland, I took the much despised Interstates south, heading for a rendezvous with my friends Sue and Fred at the Grand Canyon. Sue also happens to be my 3rd cousin once removed. Her great-grandfather, Luther Marion Joslin (1852-1930) was a brother of my great-great-grandmother Malissa Mariah Joslin Brubaker Bower (1849-1937). They were the children of Lysander and Lydia Robison Joslin. Sue's uncle, Irwin Joslin, was the first to make contact with our branch of the family (in 1968).

I allowed several days for the drive from Oakland to the Grand Canyon – it was much further than I had thought, about 850 miles. I didn't make any sightseeing stops along the way except for a slight detour to the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve, however I didn't take the time to walk any of the trails. It was almost impossible to get a good close-up shot of the poppies because of the wind, but they were absolutely gorgeous!

Photographs taken on April 8, 2010.