Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Grand Canyon backpack adventure

During our river rafting trip, we schemed with Robyn and Cathy how we might get back to this beautiful place, preferably on foot for the next foray.  How about backpacking, maybe around New Years?

The idea was sound.  The timing... not so much.  We don't get a ton of precipitation in Arizona in the winter, but we do get an occasional storm.  Like around New Years this year.  We pushed back the start by one day to let things clear up, although the weather event was still moving east over the highway where Robyn and Cathy were driving west.  Happily they eventually drove out the other side and made it to Flagstaff where we met for supper.  Great to see y'all again!

The other challenge was that our permit was for Hermit trail, and the Hermit Road was temporarily closed (you know, snow and all that).  We figured there are other Grand Canyon options, so we would aim for the backcountry office the next day.  Worst case, we'd get to see snow at the canyon, always an excellent experience.

Day 0:
White knuckle driving (for Cathy and Robyn)
Pizza and beer with our friends
Adventure begins!

We headed to the South Rim, and the ranger at the office surprised us with the news that there were spots open at Bright Angel and Indian Garden campgrounds.  Wow, I didn't expect to get in there without planning way ahead and getting lucky.  Yes please, of course we would like to do that, thank you!

We shuttled over to the top of South Kaibab trail to get started.  "No Thru Traffic" - unless you're going to the other rim?

Yay for snowy canyon scenery!

Ready with the traction devices, at least until we dropped below the snow line:

It was a beautiful day for a hike:

Glad we're going to the bottom before we set up camp:

The switchbacks at the top of the trail:

You can never have too many pictures of this "don't get heat exhaustion" sign in the winter, especially with some willing actors:

It didn't take long to get out of the snow:

Hello, mules:

John took a nice picture of the scale of the trail:

Hey, I've never noticed that hole in the ridge before.  Has that always been there?  I mean, in our lifetimes?

A view of Zoroaster Temple on the far horizon:

Smiling at the winding trail through the rock:

More rocks:

Approaching the last switchbacks before the bottom:

The view of our playground for the next couple days, including the river trail that we did loops on between the two bridges:

It's a deep, dark tunnel...

Yay for friends and backpacking!

We found a nice spot in the campground, still amazed that we were there.  How many times have we run and hiked by, thinking how it would be fun to sleep there someday?  Very cool.

Day 1 haiku:
Bright Angel Campground!
4700' (forty seven hundred feet)
It all worked out great

I love "play days" when backpacking, where we stay 2 nights in one spot and have a day to roam around.  We chose to do that here, with two nights near the river.

It was challengingly cold overnight, even at the low elevation.  With many hours of darkness, we dove into bed early, wore everything we brought, and snuggled to stay warm.

I procrastinated getting up, finally jumping out and going for a run around the bridge loop to keep warm.  Oatmeal and hot coffee for breakfast, yay!  Plus hot chocolate from the camp store, double yay!

I saw a river rafter at the store and ran over to chat, because I couldn't help myself.  He was dressed in full body warm clothes and a drysuit.  Wow, rafting in the winter is hard core.  And perhaps a bit crazy.

Our plan for the day was to explore the Clear Creek trail, something we had pondered on the map numerous times before but never gone out of our way to see (when you trek the length of the corridor and back, you rarely have the energy to visit anything else along the way).  We warmed up quickly on the hike up the hill.

And basked in the sunshine at the bench on top!

We could see the raft beach from up above - good luck, you insane people!

A fun photo that Robyn or Cathy took:

It was neat looking up the river at where we had been not long ago, reminiscing about those incredible 3 weeks:

The most-excellent trail:

Robyn and I took a lot of pictures of us taking pictures of each other...

Zoroaster timer photo:

Admiring the geological oddities like this odd tower with a stone stuck in the middle:

Another geological oddity - the great unconformity.  John went up to investigate.  Did you find the missing layers, John?

Day 2:
12 hours in tent
Clear Creek Trail - excellent hike
Lots of hot chock-lat :)

The next morning we packed and started up the Bright Angel trail to our next campsite.  Thank you river!

Robyn catches me taking her picture again:

We walked down to the beach at Pipe Creek so I could see the crew change-over spot (which I had missed when our raft didn't quite make it to shore before getting caught in the current).  Finally made it!

If we keep going, eventually we'll find the sunshine again, I just know it.

Even this waterfall was iced over.  OK, we weren't imagining that it was cold.

Indian Garden campground is another wonderful place.  Complete with little shelters so we could hang the tent flies to dry:

The park ranger had suggested that we might go out to Plateau Point to see sunset, and that sounded like a marvelous idea.  We packed up our supper and cooking implements and started in that direction.

Then we paused, as we heard something making loud screeching and cat-like screaming noises.  What the heck?

Cathy and I went up to the ranger station, and we were told that bobcats have been active around here lately.  OK, good to know!  Bobcats are way less concerning than any larger type of cat.

John trying to get a look at whatever is fighting or causing a general ruckus:

We never got a good look into the dense brush.  And the sun is starting to drop - we should go.

Another great view of the river:

With a close-up of Horn Rapids, where Robyn and I walked/swam around and Charlie and Leslie tipped their raft but didn't fall in or turn over:

One last nice view of Zoroaster (and I might finally remember the name of a peak in the canyon, or not):

A waterfall below us in the side canyon:

Enjoying our food and excellent company on a lovely evening:

Day 3 limerick:
There once was a bobcat named Fred
Who might have made something dead
Picnic for dinner
Sunset's a winner!
Hiking at night - time for bed

One last thing to do - hike back out.  At least we were already partway up the hill, starting from Indian Garden.

A brief pitstop and rest break:

Back in the snow and ice:

Thank you friends, we had a great time!

Friday, January 21, 2022

Cool runnings in Arizona

Here's a "I'm almost caught up" post with some places we've been running in Arizona this winter.

Sedona!  I've been trying to get there every couple of weeks.  It's so beautiful, the trail network is crazy extensive, and I don't think I would ever run out of places to explore.

Even on a cloudy day, anywhere you go is camera-worthy.

The only downside is that it takes longer to get anywhere, partly because I have to watch my footing on the rocky-ish trails, and of course because I'm always wanting to stare at the scenery at the same time.

I'm not sure what geological magic created these shapes and colors, but I surely appreciate it.

Moving on to somewhere less orange, we had the chance to climb Siphon Draw to the Flat Iron in December.  I'm not sure why I didn't bring the camera, because it was quite a unique experience.  The "trail" goes straight up a very steep draw.  Lots of scrambling and route finding on big rocks and slabs.  All totally doable, all while wondering how hard it will be to get back down.

After that, the walk to the top of the Flat Iron was strangely simple, with great views on a lovely day.  At that point I had plenty of extra hands and fingers available for digging out the phone to take a picture of the towers on top, looking toward the Superstition range:

Oh, and getting back down was fine.  Fun even.  Glad we went!

I ran my first 50K race in quite some time, from Lake Pleasant to Cave Creek.  John came out to crew, meeting me at the halfway aid station.  Yay for John!  And for hand sanitizer after using the porta potty!

And there she goes...

Two things that stood out: Running for hours seems to take a lot longer when not listening to podcasts.  And being out in the desert following a flagged route, with no map/compass, no idea where we were going, that was strange!  I guess we have done a lot of orienteering around here lately.

Even though my stated goal was only to finish, I ended up racing several other women.  Only because it was something to do.  And they were chasing me.  My competitive streak still exists!

The final 3 miles were a loop up a big hill, around and down the other side.  John got a picture of me climbing the switchbacks up the hill, although I'm so tiny in this photo that it's really just a picture of the terrain we were running in:

I climbed reasonably well, but then noticed two women chasing me - and running uphill!  Geez, y'all aren't going to make this easy.

John also hiked so fast up to the top that he even got a picture of me on the traverse around the back of the peak - again you'll just have to take my word for it:

Happily my downhilling speed is still half-decent, especially when properly motivated.  Crossing the line, after "winning" the mini-race that didn't matter for anything (there were several actually-fast women well ahead of us, after all):

Some scenes from an orienteering event near Rock Springs, where we helped pick up controls afterward and John took the time to snap some pictures.  The Gila River is really pretty around here:

A couple of the checkpoints were in a drainage that offered a bit of downclimbing on interesting rocks, plus figuring out how to climb around small pools of water.  We were warned beforehand that this was more of an adventure hike - those are always fun!

Hey Dave, come join us one of these days!

Moving up in race distance, time for a 50-miler!  Or 52 miles, that works too.  I ran around the trails of Estrella Mountain park last week, super enjoyable day.  The clouds made for perfect temperatures:

John didn't even have to go anywhere to crew for me, as the course was in big loops of 20 and 12 miles.  Added benefit of knowing where I was going after the first loop.  And some company from a local runner who was fun to talk to for part of the first loop (thanks Danelle!).  Plus my iPod in the later miles.  It was a tiring and excellent day (and evening):

We are enjoying winter in the desert!