Saturday, April 4, 2020

The end of an era

There once was a pack of three dogs: Sierra, Cale, and Aluco. In a town where people recognize your dogs before they know you, these dogs were icons. They hiked, ran behind skiers, hung out at the ski area, and backpacked. Dogs don't live long enough, and Aluco and Sierra left us within a month of each other, four years ago.

Cale, the remaining dog, mourned them the rest of his life. Sometimes he howled for them. When Ruby came along, he didn't want anything to do with her, but then he fell in love with her, just like anyone who meets her does. The two dogs became intensely bonded. If one of us tried to go off with just one dog, the remaining dog would cry and pout and try to go along.

Last weekend, Cale left us. He stopped eating, and after many procedures, the vet found stomach cancer. We could have woken him up and kept him with us for an unknown time, but it would have been selfish and unfair to him. I'll never forget him walking bravely into the vet's office, and we could not go with him because of this stupid virus. His last hours were with someone else, not us.

I have a number of friends who will never get another pet because it hurts so much when they leave. Right now there is a big gap in our hearts where this white, fluffy dog used to be. I look over at his bed and he isn't there. He isn't in the yard, lying under his favorite tree. There's no more howling. Ruby is very sad and still looks for him everywhere.

I know in time there will be good memories of him and the great life he had. We're just not there yet.

Losing Cale feels like the end of an era, an era when we were younger and ran farther and skied steeper and believed none of that would ever change.

But here is something really strange. I am not a person who believes in these things, but on Cale's last day, I saw a white dog run through the yard, though there was no real dog. I know I saw this. I believe it was Sierra, come to lead the way for Cale. Run on, white dog pack.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Are you going to live here forever?

The little kids next door have been having fun riding their bikes across my lawn and my driveway. In the past they have done adorable things like knock on my door and sprint away, leaving me with a bouquet of dandelions. Today I was getting out of my car after snowshoeing, and the youngest kid approached.

"Are you going to live here FOREVER?" he asked.

I hesitated. "Um, probably not? Are you going to live here forever?"

"Yes!"  he answered.

I probably won't live in this house forever, in this neighborhood. But because I have been forced to stay close to home, I have been working on appreciating the local things. I had to cancel an Idaho backpacking trip that has a short window, so it won't happen this year. I threw a small tantrum (alone), felt silly, and decided to make the best of what I have here.

My backpack is still packed though. I'm not giving up hope that we will have a backpacking season.

Ruby and I went for a hike up the East Fork. I picked the fork with the least footprints, and when I caught up to the hikers in front of me, I turned around. In my community there are still people camping by the river in large groups, and I don't want to be part of the problem and cause the trails to be closed (though I hear rumors they will be).

We also found that there was enough snow for snowshoeing, and the views aren't bad.

I've been thinking about how to reconfigure my life if there is no hiking this summer. Kayak laps around the lake (if the launch is open)? Ride my bike every day? Run more? It won't be ideal, but I will find a way to make it work.

I hope everyone is doing all right. I'm still working, and so my life has not changed that much. My work trips have been canceled and my writing workshop is in jeopardy, but those are small things in the face of what others are going through. Stay safe, friends.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Being outdoors is essential

As I write this, I expect my state to go into lockdown tomorrow. What this really means, I don't know. Outwardly, it is supposed to mean that you only do essential errands, but going for walks outside is okay. But how far can you drive to walk? To the county limits? Beyond if you don't stop anywhere? Nobody knows.

After a week of frantic conference calls, attended by people who were clearly unable to telework professionally, I knew I had to escape to the outdoors.  The drive to Cow Creek is a rough one, taking an hour to drive 15 miles, so I rarely attempt it. But the call of the river was too much. Arriving at the trailhead, I was horrified to see large groups of people sitting around in lawn chairs, partying. But fortunately few people were on the trail, and we all gave each other wide berths.

At the confluence of the Imnaha and the Snake, there were two other backpacking groups (it is rare to see even one other group). However, I knew of a secret beach, so I made my way there. Nobody was around, the sand was warm, it was perfect.

I wanted to see the stars, so I left the rain fly off. The temperature dropped into the 30s, which tested the limits of my backpacking quilt, but it was too magical to cover up.
 Before sleeping I took an after dinner walk. I had made the rookie mistake of bringing a stove but not fuel! And nowhere is open for me to buy any. Good thing I am experienced in the art of cold soaking. Bean salad for the win!

I always think that I will hang out in the morning and read but once morning comes I am ready to get going. I was packed and on the trail by 7:20.
The sun was just starting to peek out as I reached the confluence (tiptoeing past sleeping campers).
I don't know about you, but a 24 hour break from the news and social media was perfect. I wish I could go for longer.

Stay healthy, friends!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

my next book

I try to keep this blog free of most self promotion, but it is too exciting not to share: a small, but reputable, press is going to publish my next book! The Last Layer of the Ocean is a memoir of marriage and kayaking on Alaska's wild Southeast coast. Spoiler alert, I didn't navigate either of these things very well, but in the end learned a lot more about resilience and truth along the way. I'll share more details about publication when I know it.

Other than that, I've been social distancing, which is pretty easy in a small, rural community. Most events have been cancelled and things are closed, but life goes on as it must in a place where people are more focused on their livelihood than on social activities. I'm used to not seeing anyone when I go out on the trails and this week was no exception.

I went for a delicious run on a back road. The view was okay.

And a snowy hike in the mountains. It's still winter here.

And snuggled with the pets. Puffin doesn't believe in social distancing.

Everything is OK over here. I hope everyone is hanging in there. What is your favorite social distancing activity? What books are you reading? If you could self-isolate anywhere, where would it be?
Grand Canyon, of course! But if it was a luxury location, a small cabin on the Pacific Ocean would also be good.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Quarantine Diaries

On Saturday, I worked most of the day, so I went to the gym to run on the dreadmill. I ran three miles, and as soon as I was done, an overwhelming tiredness swept over me. I went and lay on the gym floor, which is never really a good idea, but that's how tired I was. I had brought extra clothes to go to the grocery store, but I found I couldn't even contemplate it. I went home, and started to shiver.

The next day I felt better and assumed it was just a fluke. However, as I stumbled behind a bubbly friend on what should have been an easy hike, I just didn't feel right. I went home and shivered some more, threw up, and also went to bed at 6. I had to admit it: I had the flu.

Not my best look.

I NEVER get the flu. Although, I guess I do. The next several days were a blur, though I managed to work (a remote job means no real sick days unless there's blood), but luckily the people at the other end of the conference calls never knew I was lying on the couch at the time. I didn't even feel like eating chocolate, or eating at all.

I contemplated my life choices. I had just flown through two cities that were known to have coronavirus cases, one an epicenter where people suspect it has been passing among the populace for some time. Though I suspected I merely had the flu, it was hard not to wonder. For most people, who will have a mild case, there's really no way of telling. But I knew one thing, I had to stay sequestered, because the panic is running high. Stroll into the post office with a cough, and the news will be all over town in minutes.

I did sneak out for a walk, but nobody was around to infect.
So I quarantined myself. And I have to tell you, it gets boring! You find yourself with a pair of scissors, looking speculatively at your hair. You watch silly shows like "Find my First Love" on Amazon Prime (because you have no TV) and ponder the fine line between romance and stalking. You think of all the really busy days you have had and all the times you thought that if you had more time, you would write, but it doesn't sound appealing to do anything that requires brainpower. You disinfect your house and note how filthy the corners of it are. You annoy the cat with too much attention until it bites and runs away.

Finally by Day 6 I felt human again, and since I hadn't had symptoms for 48 hours (coughing, fever) I ventured to the gym. I felt as though I had lost all my fitness, although I am sure that isn't true. At least I didn't feel like lying on the floor anymore. I'm on the comeback trail.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hiking the Arizona Trail, Passages 17-16: and a flip to 21

Right after leaving Picketpost, we found ourselves in an enchanted place. The trail wound around Picketpost Mountain, in and out of small ravines full of birdsong. Even though we were climbing, the scenery distracted me from the effort.

A couple of day hikers approached. "There's water in a wash up ahead," they reported, "but it looks kind of nasty." We were burdened with three and a half liters, but we decided to make the wash our destination for lunch. Once we arrived, I saw they were right; there were pools of water in the wash, pools that wouldn't last for long. There was a skim of algae but otherwise the water seemed clear and cold. "I'd drink this," I said. "Me too," TC agreed. It was true, backpackers have different standards.

We had numerous reports that the rainwater collector was full, so we approached the building with confidence. This collector was placed here to assist Arizona Trail users in a long, dry stretch. If not for it, we would have faced a 22 mile carry: doable, but not pleasant.

We sat around the rainwater collector and decided to call it a night. We could have gone further, but we had already come 20 miles. This was good enough. In the night, rogue bunnies dragged off TC's trekking pole and chewed off the hand straps. Beware the bunnies!

The next day we began the long descent to the Gila River. Slow and rocky, it still afforded us the best scenery yet. Arriving at the river, we were distinctly underwhelmed. There were jeep paths crossing it, and the smell of cows. It didn't seem like a place we wanted to linger long. So we marched onward through a darkening sky, arriving at a calm wash minutes before sunset. Another 20 mile day in the books.

Because we had gone farther than we planned each day (shocker!) we arrived at the car early the next morning. What to do now? We debated hiking south into Passage 15, but we decided we wanted new scenery, and the water situation looked grim. Piling in the car we drove north to the northern end of Passage 21.

This passage was different all right. Juniper trees! Flowing creeks! We encountered Hawkeye, who looked at us in bewilderment; after all, the last time we had seen him we were down in 18 going south. After hiking about six miles we decided to stop by the creek. I shoved my tent into a small space, feeling smug. I'd get to sleep by the river! This was going to be great!

Until it wasn't. The wind picked up with a ferocity that threatened to break my tent poles. I collapsed the tent and lay sleepless under it, waiting for daybreak.

This was the end of our AZT adventure. As I hiked out, I pondered my life choices. There are some other sections that look amazing, and I might be back.
The perfect tent spot...NOT.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hiking the Arizona Trail, Passage 18: water in the desert

TC and I exchanged nervous glances. The road to Rogers Trough was rough, though beautiful, and we didn't want to be responsible for damage to our trail angels' car. I would have turned back miles before, I thought, but "Umbrella Man" kept going. "I'm not even in four wheel drive yet!" he exclaimed.

Finally conceding at a exceedingly steep and rocky stretch, our trail angels left us within striking distance of the AZT. A Jeep sailed by, its lone occupant stopping to ensure us that we didn't have all that far to walk. Choking his dust, we deduced that the AZT is probably not as well known as the PCT--there, a Jeep would have likely offered us a ride.

An unfamiliar sun settled on us as we hiked up the road, a plethora of Jeeps roaring by. Missing our turn to the trailhead, we stopped to ask one of them. "Oh, you're miles away," he said, before driving on (and not offering us a ride). Fortunately between our paper maps, an Inreach, and the Guthook app, we figured out that we were actually on the trail--it merges with the road. Not being purists, we decided that this was good enough and no need to go back miles to find the actual start.

We were hiking southbound, Passages 18-16, mostly because of the difficult access and to avoid a long climb, which now became a rocky descent far down into Reavis Canyon. Burdened with 3.5 liters of water, I attempted to keep up with TC and failed. Several switchbacks later, we were on a flat and cruiser trail. I had been fretting over leaving my fleece jacket behind, but it was apparent that we had picked a great weather window. The late afternoon sun slanted butter-yellow across the saguaro cactus as we reached our dubious water source, a tank near a windmill.

Goldfish water
TC peered in. "There's goldfish in here," she reported. A few cows loitered nearby, looking malevolent. As we pondered the likelihood of having to filter this water, a truck appeared, and the occupants gifted us with some cold water. Trail Magic! Shortly after, we met a Canadian section hiker, Hawkeye, who assured us that water was running in Whitford Canyon. Free from having to drink cow water, we made quick work of a few more miles, winding up just before dark in the canyon.

It was true. The recent rains had created a bubbling creek through rocky cliffs. How lucky were we, I thought, as I set up my tent in the falling darkness. The desert was incredibly green, with purple, yellow and white flowers of unknown names. Tonight we would sleep with the sound of water bashfully trickling over the desert floor.

The next morning, early risers, we were on trail before first light. Our first stop was to be Picketpost trailhead, where we would pick up water we had cached for a potential 22 mile water carry. Though I had started out in my puffy jacket, the day heated up quickly as we threaded our way out and up from Whitford Canyon into a stretch of rolling hills and a gradual descent. (Later I was to learn that both Whitford and Reavis canyon are notorious flash flood paths. Fortunately, we were never threatened.)

Though we could see Highway 60 for a long way, it seemed to take longer than it should to tick off the eight miles to relative civilization. We sat on benches drinking cold water and contemplating our life choices. We hadn't planned to do twenty mile days, but if we did another 12, we would end up at the famed rainwater collector--a structure that had been put up for AZT users and significantly assists with the ability to hike the passage we were entering. (If not for this collector, the distance without reliable water would more than double.) It was either carry 5 liters and camp shy of that, or carry only 3 and be able to hike faster.

These really neat gates abound in all three passages. Interestingly, they all have different ways of opening.
Twenty miles, I hadn't done that since the summer. I knew that while I felt relatively fit, there would be some shock and awe associated with hiking that far with a backpack. In the end, though, I was up for the challenge. Shouldering our packs under a hot mid-day sun. we headed into Passage 17 and the unknown.
Crossing Whitford Creek in the early morning

Friday, February 14, 2020

AZT prep: anxiety and Cheezits

I sat among a mess of epic proportions,  feeling slightly ill from eating trail food (OK, Cheezeits) that I was supposed to be dividing into ziplock bags. It was time for section hiking prep!

"Why don't you just have a kit?" J asked as I threw gear about. Perhaps in another lifetime, when I have a house with more than one room, this could happen. Instead I am reduced to slogging to the shed in search of a vital piece of gear.

which pack to taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake? 
I had forgotten how much work it takes to prepare for a section hike, especially when not done solo. TC and I fire emails back and forth. Should we stay in Superior before the hike? Where can we leave our extra clothes? Was she bringing rain pants? Should we cache water or wing it? The prep is more exhausting than the hike.

I was beset with anxiety. What if the plane couldn't get out of the airport due to the forecasted winter storm? What if a rookie was again doing the de-icing, making me miss my connection? What was this nagging sore spot on the outside of my knee? "Could be a meniscus tear," Spindrift says helpfully, sending me in a panic.

All of this may sound so terrible that you might wonder why I even hike. I do too, sometimes. But I know once I get on trail all of this will fall away. I need a social media and life break. See you on the other side, friends.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

return of the winter princess

The winter princess made a brief appearance yesterday. For those who haven't been reading this blog long, the winter princess is me, having a meltdown over difficult conditions. In this case, I was trying to side step up an icy berm on my skis to reach the trail. Not succeeding, I tried taking my skis off, only to sink knee-deep in the snow. Cue the princess!  "This is too hard," I whined. "I'm over winter!"

In addition to my woes, I hadn't brought the right gear for the conditions. It has been such a warm winter that I am used to skiing in tights and a couple layers. But in this ferocious wind, I was unprepared. I had to borrow some long underwear, and I wrapped a buff under my hat, adding a neck gaiter and a puffy jacket under my softshell. There was nothing I could do about my hands, desperately cold in gloves, not the mittens I should have brought. I'm tired of winter, I grumbled to myself. After all, it has been snowing since September. Shouldn't it be over by now?

When I finally managed to step up on the trail, I was annoyed with myself. I don't like the winter princess. Having a meltdown doesn't help the situation any. But as I skied along, a snowy wind buffeting my face, all the other skiers prudently at home, my fingers frozen, I wondered how long I had to be tough. All of those years on the trail crew and on the fireline, you were mocked if you showed any weakness. You had to acquire a tough skin and power ahead no matter how difficult it was. Is it ever okay to be a winter princess?

Note all the snow on my hat, accumulating in just a few minutes.
Maybe once in a great while, I thought.. Having a brief meltdown usually allows the frustration to dissipate and subsequent obstacles don't seem as bad.  Embarking on my second long loop, I realized I had switched out my insoles to the ski boots I wasn't wearing. No wonder hot spots were beginning to emerge on my feet. In the old days I might have just kept skiing and ended up with blisters. Now I think I know when to call it, so I headed back through the campground to the car to get the insoles.

The princess successfully banished, I returned to the trails. Only a few brave souls had emerged from the ski lodge. A combination of near-freezing temperatures, a snow dump of epic proportions, and gusts of thirty miles an hour had kept most away.  Feeling a bit vindicated, I tackled a more difficult loop, finishing without falling. The snow conditions were perfect. I didn't want winter to ever end!

You can rent this yurt. How fun would that be!

Near the yurt, a lodge employee paused on his snowmobile. "What a great day!" he enthused. Yes, yes it was. It was a perfect day.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The inevitable presence of gravity

Sometimes it seems like winter is all there is, that summer does not really exist. That this is all there will ever be, the sound of our skis cutting through a light crust, snow falling lightly.  It is not unreasonable to think this, since the mountains have been shrouded in snow since September, and we have been skiing for over three months. February and March are usually the snowiest months, and it seems like this is on track for 2020 as well.

I strap on my gaiters, circa 1997. Unfortunately one foot strap has broken. What to do? I see one of J's gaiters has the same problem. So I take one of both. Though not stylish, I thought this was brilliant. Why buy new if you don't have to?

We head out on the trails. New snow has fallen over a crust, which makes the conditions fast but treacherous. The Devils View loop has some significant hills, but I have skied them before and am sure I can do so again. When I first moved here I was afraid of this loop, but now it seems less difficult. We find a friend skiing alone and loop her into our group. On the ridge, a fragile sun appears.

We are skiing through the cut-off when suddenly I fall. I'm not even on a big hill. I land awkwardly in a position from which it is difficult to untangle. It takes my companions to help me up. That is the only thing I have noticed about getting older: it is harder to get up. 

We decide to do the loop one more time, to take advantage of the track we have made. "This is going to be fast," C says as she tucks into the descent. I hurtle along until I divot into the hillside. Another fall! This time my foot is bent back oddly, making it challenging to get up. I struggle to my feet, making a big crater.  C is waiting ahead so I ski on.

Finally we decide we've skied enough and head for the parking lot, down a final steep slope. You guessed it! I fall again! I have now fallen more times in this single skiing outing than I have in the past several years combined. 

Covered in snow, I ski soberly back to the car. Sometimes the snow is like that. With three more months of winter, I have plenty of time for redemption.

Pre-falls, still feeling confident

Saturday, January 25, 2020

It can't always be spectacular

"Okay, Red Riding Hood," J said. I had just finished listing all of the reasons why I couldn't think of a good outdoor adventure. I laughed, because I was sure he meant Goldilocks, but that didn't lift my sullen mood. I don't need conditions to be just right, but the combination of ice and high winds wasn't overly appealing. Slog up Mount Howard? But, thirty mile an hour winds and no views. Ski? Not unless I want to break a leg on the icy snow. Run? See skiing, above. But then again...I had been sitting at work all week. It was time to do something, even if it was wrong.

Each winter I tell myself I need more indoor hobbies. My mood should not be so tied to the weather. So I made some bread:
And thought about my next book, which is a toss up between adding to my national park seasonal worker essays, a new novel about TB sanitariums in the 1940s, or stories from the PCT (these ideas keep ping-ponging in my head with no resolution). Then it was time for a more ambitious project!

Sorry, neighbors!

J rolled his eyes. "You had all day when I wasn't here to do that," he said. Then infuriatingly he picked up the harmonica and was able to play a song. What's up with that?

OK, so there was always reading. I picked up my current book, The Sun is a Compass (highly recommend). All that did was make me feel lazy in comparison to those adventurers. That led me into a rabbit hole of planning some fall trips. Tanner Trail to Beamer to the confluence of the Little Colorado, anyone? "That Beamer Trail was the hardest trail I ever did," T tells me later, at the pub. He was twenty then, in the 1980s. I reconsider.

I've tried other indoor hobbies. I foisted homemade soap on unsuspecting relatives for a while. I tried making jewelry, until I realized I am not much of a jewelry wearer.

I sulked around the house, feeling as though I had wasted a precious weekend day because I hadn't done anything spectacular. Which is silly, because it won't always be spectacular. That is what you don't see in social media--the days when people have headaches, when they putter around the house, when they do chores. Let me tell you, I have plenty of those. Fortunately, I can usually balance those out with days that look like last Monday:

It was one of those perfect days when the snow and sun align to make for great skiing. The steep hills seemed gentle, the climbs not taxing. The sun, which has been notably absent, decided to show its face. Only one small avalanche had come across the road, and the danger seemed to have subsided.

On this day, though, I gave up and went to the gym. Soon, C came in. "This weather sucks," he lamented, getting on the treadmill. "I wanted to run up from the green gate but I didn't want to run in the ice." I was glad someone else agreed with me and I wasn't the only one to retreat indoors. We attacked our various cardio machines with as much enthusiasm as we could muster. It wasn't spectacular, but we did it.

Of the three choices I have listed, which book sounds more interesting? Do you ever go to the gym and then feel like you should have been outside?

Sunday, January 19, 2020

To not slow down

I slogged up the mountain in pursuit of R and A, who were comfortably skinning on skis. They were only going up for the day, but I carried a full backpack to spend the night. My snowshoes felt clunky compared to their skis, but this slope was way too steep and technical for me to ski it, thus the shoes. Still, I couldn't help but think how difficult this was, sinking into deep snow as I shuffled along. After all, it was my birthday the next day. Maybe it was finally happening, the slowing down that my older friends had mentioned. Though I have accepted this with running, I am not ready to acknowledge it with other adventures.

But. Snowshoeing is hard. Though it isn't the hardest activity out there, snowshoeing with a full pack in deep, powdery snow isn't the easiest either. "I used to like snowshoeing," A says as we ascend yet another hill. "Then I started skiing." I can see her point. Though they have to skin up the mountain, it takes them half the time to get back down. I stomp along, feeling slow and old.

But as we reached the cabin, R said, "You are the fastest snowshoer I know." Maybe I wasn't slowing down, not yet.

A little worse for wear, but I made it to the cabin on snowshoes.
Because there is a very small adventure pool here, I often find myself out hiking or skiing with friends that bridge a wide age gap. The other day in our party we had someone who was 25 and someone else who was 67. In a larger city, I'm not sure this would happen; I have noticed on the online groups that people tend to stick to their own age bracket. They're missing out. My older friends fill me in on life in these mountains forty years ago, and the younger ones bring a spark of enthusiasm that I appreciate.

Selfies with the dog
At the cabin, I opt out of the mountain climb with the others in order to stay with the older dog, who wants to go but probably shouldn't. He whines a bit, upset to be left. But then his young buddy, Ruby, can't stand to go without him and bolts back to us. Despite the age difference, they love each other. We sit by the fire and read and take dog selfies. "We'll go out later," I promise the old dog, "when there's a trail packed down."

Later we climb high, looking over as far as Idaho. The wind has stopped and, at thirty degrees, it feels warm. The old dog bounds down the hill like a puppy. He's not slowing down that much either, not yet. Neither of us are.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

What's on your adventure bucket list?

"Kilimanjaro and a safari are next on my bucket list," Good Stuff said. (He had just returned from Peru, and true to form, was planning ahead.)

I thought for a minute. "I don't really have a bucket list," I confessed.

"Yes you do," Good Stuff insisted. "You might not call it that, but you have things you want to do before you die."

Except...I don't. I have things I think would be fun to do, but they aren't essential to enjoying my life. For example, for 2020, I am going to enter the Wonderland Trail lottery. I applied to be a Writer in Residence at a national park where I used to work. I would like to complete a couple of long loop backpacking trips in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, and in the Seven Devils in Idaho. I want to kayak more, and bike more.
Halfway through a ten mile ski--why does skiing and swimming make me so much more tired than hiking?
And for the vaguely defined future, the Arizona Trail and some cherry-picker sections of the Continental Divide and Appalachian Trails are on the radar. I entered the Phantom Ranch (Grand Canyon) lottery for March 2021 for a cabin, because I guess I got spoiled by staying in one and why not? Then there are the someday things--as in, "someday, I'd like to hike the Superior Hiking Trail",  "someday, I'd like to do a long kayak trip", "someday, I'd like to go to New Zealand again." But if none of those happen, I'd be OK with it, because I know that other, just as exciting things would replace those.

OK, so maybe finishing the PCT became a goal. But a bucket list? IDK.
I guess my bucket list item is only one thing. To keep going, and be able to do what I want as long as I can. That's what pushes me out the door every day, when I see people younger than I am unable to do this, either from bad luck or different life choices.

"If you can do a run of eight miles," a co-worker used to say, "you can work up to a marathon." I don't run far anymore, but the premise is true. If you can maintain some adventuring and some fitness, you should be able to show up and achieve whatever your goal is. So on the days I really don't want to, I drag myself to the gym or outside, because I know eventually an opportunity to do something fun will arise, and I want to be ready. Even if I don't have anything planned out.

Is this weird that I don't have a bucket list? Does this show a lack of imagination? Do you have a bucket list? What's one thing that's on it?

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Hiking in the Deep Freeze: Clear Creek, Grand Canyon

We headed down the Bright Angel Trail in the snow. The white snow was in stark contrast to the red walls of the canyon. Winter storms had deterred all but the hardy. 

As I walked, I pondered my life choices. Or at least, my gear choices. Typically in late December I encounter daytime temperatures of 60 degrees. This time I was not to be so lucky. Down pants, a fleece, a puffy jacket, down booties...would it be enough?

Snow swirled around us as we reached the Colorado River. Snow at Phantom Ranch! I felt a deep foreboding. Cold is one of my nemeses. I worry about being cold, because I often am cold.

Our first night was at the Bright Angel campground, a place of great beauty but also crowded with other hikers. I had been lucky enough to score a cabin cancellation. These cute stone cottages are reserved a year in advance by lottery. Having never stayed in one, I was excited to try it.

My intrepid hiking companion, P, insisted he preferred his tent, so I left him to it and headed to cabin 11. Basic inside, it had bunk beds, a sink, and a toilet. Also, a heater. I reveled in the unusual luxury of sleeping indoors, but I had to admit that staying inside removes  you from the canyon experience a little. At least I wasn't staying in the dorms. Parked in a bunk bed with a bunch of snorers did not sound fun to me. I'd carry a tent any day over that.

You have to vacate the cabins at the unseemly hour of eight in the morning, so we packed up and headed to our next destination, Clear Creek. On the north Tonto platform, the nine mile hike drops into a few washes, but mostly rolls through an open landscape. A bitterly cold wind kept us hustling along, and we got to our destination by one in the afternoon. "Now what?" P asked. Because it wasn't warm enough to sit around in the creek like I had done a couple of Marches ago, we decided to retreat to our tents to relax. I felt a little guilty about this, but it was actually perfect to just read and nap for a couple of hours.
We had a layover day at Clear Creek, and decided to go our separate ways. Peter puttered around camp, and I headed both upriver and down. You can hike six miles one way to a waterfall, or five miles one way to the Colorado, but with the limited daylight and the slow going, these destinations were out of reach. I still managed to hike about eight miles.

The next day we hiked back to Bright Angel, spying a rafting party looking miserable. It would be a cold river trip this time of year. After a brief visit to the canteen, all too soon it was time to retreat to our tents, well before midnight on New Years Eve. Party animals we were not.

It's something like nine miles back out the Bright Angel trail to the rim and the wind was so biting cold that I hustled along with no breaks, topping out in less than four hours, passing all of the day hikers in my quest to finally get warm.

While this wasn't the most enjoyable trip. you can't really have a bad day in the Canyon. As I climbed out, I heard the faint clatter of the park helicopter. I read later that they were extracting this man from the New Hance trail. There are still lots of questions around his "disappearance" and I doubt he even realized he was missing. Maybe he wanted to stay in the Canyon forever. I mean, who could blame him?