Sunday, November 25, 2018

A "good" winter

Around here, when people say "it's going to be a bad winter", they mean a winter without snow. Not only are there lots of skiers here, but we know what the fires of summer can bring. So far? It's hard to tell. It's been cold, so cold that sometimes the gym seemed a better option. Being a bike wimp, I stop riding when it's below 30 F. It's time to retool for winter.

I live in a 1,000 square foot house with one closet. Why it's so challenging to find things in it, I don't know. Winter caught me by surprise. Where are the gaiters? Microspikes? Oh, I guess I need my snowshoe boots--running shoes don't cut it anymore for hikes. Though there's not quite enough snow to ski yet, it is coming, and I have no idea where the ski wax is. The dog needs her own wax, a concoction called Mushers Secret that is supposed to stop snow accumulating on her fluffy paws.

Over Thanksgiving, some visiting friends and I hiked up the backside of Mount Howard (8000'). However, as is typical with a larger group, we didn't get going until nearly two pm, which left us little choice but to only hike a couple miles and turn around. So a couple days later I decided to take on the climb again.

This hike is one I do every year and forget how steep it is until I am back on it. Conditions vary wildly from packed snow to ice to knee deep unconsolidated powder (today's conditions). You never know what you are going to get. I started out with a fat biker, who eventually got tired of hike a bike and turned around.

A rare flat spot to ride

I continued on solo, slogging uphill and thinking that if I wanted to turn around, I could. However. I feel like people need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Plowing through deep snow at a slow rate of speed, going uphill steeply, isn't easy. But there's a line we all have, the "turn around" line. I'm not talking about the danger line, which we have as well. This is the "I call BS on this expedition" line. It's good to push that line every once in a while.

Looking down several thousand feet

So I did, at the blazing speed of less than two miles an hour (just a guess, since having a Garmin would be too demoralizing and annoying). Finally I reached the sunshine, which perked me up considerably. After that it was just a slow knee-deep push to the summit.

Nobody was around, which isn't unusual. This is a tough one to sell people on, despite the reward at the top.

Gondola summit building. The tram only runs in summer.
As is often the case, it was warmer up there, and rows of mountains stretched to the horizon. It was worth the slog. It always is. Unless it's not, which is a whole other story.

Total distance: 8 miles, but it seems like farther. Elevation gain somewhere in the 4000s. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Solitude in the Grand Canyon

I had walked sixteen miles, losing five thousand feet and then gaining a thousand right back. It would be dark soon. It was time to stop.

I had tried to stop earlier, in Sumner Wash, on a picture-perfect ledge below a couple of rare water-filled potholes. But when I set up my tent, the wind bent the poles and pushed the fabric to the ground. I had pressed on, hoping for a windless spot. Now it was time for a Desperation Camp.

I've had a few of these Desperation Camps, a last minute scramble to beat time or weather, sometimes spent holding a tent pole in despair, other times sleeping sideways in the only halfway decent flattish spot around. This one, among the sagebrush and cactus in the Clear Creek use area of the Grand Canyon, hardly qualified as desperate in the end. Parked below Zoraster Temple, looking across the great expanse of the Tonto platform, with the kind of stars you only see in a place where there is complete darkness--even with a little wind, this was not a true Desperation Camp.

Could be a lot worse

I was back in the Grand Canyon, because I can't seem to stay away. I asked about ten people to go along, but they all were constrained by obligation or time, so I was doing this one solo. I had never been to Clear Creek, which is an easy climb from Phantom Ranch, and so I had chosen this area for two days. During those two days, I didn't see a single person. In the Grand Canyon! Unbelievable.

Clear Creek trail
The next morning I descended a slippery scree trail to the creek, which was a little slice of paradise. Campsites were nestled in the sand below high rock walls. It was only ten in the morning, and I contemplated tagging it and heading back to a dry camp closer to the Ranch. It's hard to turn off the voice that says I should constantly be moving, but I managed to do it. I sat on a sandy beach by the creek. I explored a little downstream. I wrote a little. The hours passed quickly.

The most delightful campsite. The large rockpile, obviously meant to block the wind, gave me pause, but it was calm and warm here.

Total solitude in the GC.
With a sigh I packed up to head for the controlled chaos that was Bright Angel Campground. It's hard to avoid a stay here if you go to Clear Creek--it's nine miles back from the creek, and usually you won't want to start hiking out of the canyon at that point, though it is certainly doable. I snagged a campsite by the creek and trooped off to Boat Beach, one of my most favorite places in the universe.

I can work with this. And look, new fancy boxes to replace those ammo cans that people could never figure out how to open and would bang them around all night long.
Nobody is at Boat Beach!
The problem with Bright Angel, and its cousin farther up the trail, Indian Garden, is that the NPS likes to concentrate its campers. This means a parade of people traipsing by your campsite to get to the bathroom. It can mean people who sit around their picnic table with bright lights and loud voices. This time, most seemed beaten down from the descent and few even ventured to the cantina when it opened to us peasants at eight.

The cottonwoods are just starting to turn. Campground on the right.
The last night, I climbed to the Tonto platform and reluctantly stayed at Indian Garden. The Corridor is getting much too crowded for my liking, but IG serves a purpose. From there, you can wander along the Tonto trail to the west, places where most people never go. And the true beauty of IG is that you can leave well before sunrise, travel for an hour by headlamp, the only person on the trail. Then you can watch as daylight slowly comes to the canyon.
People staring into the canyon at Plateau Point
The stark lonesome of the Tonto
Whenever I climb out of the Canyon--and this has been my tenth trip below the rim--I debate about going back. I've done a lot of the trails, and the ones left are the scary steep or are waterless for 30 miles. Really, there are other places to go. But in the end, I leave making plans to return. It's just that magical.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Rookie Mistakes on Trail

I ran along the unexpectedly snowy trail, Ruby in tow. I love this brief time of year before the trails get too deep to run, but when nobody is on them. The trails become mine again, not shared with a plethora of tourists.

Lately I've been suffering some random pains when I run, but today was the stuff of dreams. I didn't stumble, nothing hurt, and the last light was showing on Sacajawea. I've been running since I was fourteen, and while I don't run as often or as far and certainly not as fast as when seven minute miles constituted training runs, there are still days like this, and I am grateful.

Perhaps that's why I did something dumb. I didn't realize it until I was halfway done, not all that far into the trail, but far enough. No other cars were at the trailhead. The sun was setting, and an intense cold was settling in. I hadn't brought any survival gear. I had my phone tucked away in a pocket for pictures, but there's no service. I had on only tights, a long-sleeved shirt and a light jacket, OK for running but not if something happened.

I've never been one to not think about consequences. As a wilderness ranger, I carried enough people out on stretchers to know that a misstep can be fatal. My day pack back then was so large that people thought it was an overnight pack (to be fair, our radios were enormous things and we had to be prepared to help others out with extra gear). And lately there have been more instances of mishaps on trails that become cautionary tales.

I picked my way carefully through the rocks under a darkening sky. From now on, even on a short trail run, I need to bring survival items. I do this on every hike, but running has always seemed safer for some reason, because I don't go far and don't stay long. There are several long distance runners here who map out 40 miles or more in these mountains. I see them, many with nothing more than a water bottle and a rain jacket. It's not really a good idea. (I won't even go into my neighbor who runs a dirt road, but in the dark with a headlamp in a place where mountain lions have been spotted.)

Ruby and I successfully reached the trailhead and drove home to a glowering husband. "I didn't even know where you were! It was dark!" Oops. Note to self: leave a note too.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Pushing the Side Hustle

Okay people,
I don't push my books on this site because I don't think that is what you come here for (if interested, visit here. But just in case you are in the market for an outdoors book or two, I am selling them for a reduced price. $15 includes shipping, a screaming deal and a way to benefit a writer rather than a big store (although, please visit independent bookstores).

I have two books out:

The Geography of Water, a novel set in the remote and rainy world of Southeast Alaska. It includes landscape as backdrop, character and obstacle--living in isolation and how that shapes personality. Plus some hiking! $14 shipped (only a couple available). Or you can help out a neat bookstore and buy here: Bookloft

Fire in the Heart, a memoir about fighting wildfires as the second generation of women to do so (late 1980s/early 1990s), and how land is shaped by fire and vice versa. $15 shipped media mail.


Ha ha. Anyway, if you love to read, or if you know someone who does, and want a book for a cheaper price than you can get anywhere, email me at maryellenemerick DOT com. Only while supplies last.

BACK TO REGULAR PROGRAMMING! By the way, thanks for the recommendations on indoor hobbies. I definitely will consider them all. The harmonica was genius. Prepare to be annoyed, neighbors!

Do you have a side hustle? Post it in the comments so we all can support it. Jill, I'm looking at you (and everyone else). I want to discover some new stuff!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Seeking Indoor Hobbies

"I'm going to the post office to pick up the shrimp" is a phrase I never thought I would utter. Neither did I think I would sit transfixed in front of an aquarium, watching fish swim around.

Through a set of circumstances, I became the keeper of an aquarium. And not just one. Smaller tanks have sprung up overnight, some with just plants, some with shrimp. This was never my idea. I'm supposed to be an outside person. I'm supposed to be getting rid of stuff. Living simply. But...

I haven't had TV since 2008, and I have to laugh at myself, perched in a chair in front of a tank. The shrimp are like little helicopters, zooming in for landings. Fascinating! Did you know shrimp come in a lot of colors? I didn't know that either. Also, there is a whole subculture of people who maintain tanks, and make Youtube videos about them. Some of them even have entire fish rooms. (They are mostly  younger white guys.)

Why am I telling you about fish tanks? Because I want to dwell on the importance of having a few indoor hobbies. But I'm an outdoors person! you may argue. However, I find that on the dreariest of dark days, I need something to do rather than eat brownies sit around inside wishing it were summer.  Also, I remember years ago in a small trailer in the middle of the Florida swamp, sidelined by a running injury, I paced and whined until my co-worker Mike got fed up.

"Don't you have ANY HOBBIES?" he asked in frustration. No, no I didn't. Mostly I just ran. Of course, I read books, but I don't think of reading as a hobby--it's more an essential element of life, like breathing. Was I getting boring, I asked myself? Should I take up knitting?

Well, no. I am not crafty. I realized this when I went through a brief jewelry and soap making phase. Let's just say the results were less than spectacular. For now, I have baking, writing, yoga when something hurts and I feel like I should, googling random pain symptoms on the internet, the occasional Amazon Prime movie, playing with the pets, and I guess I should count weightlifting and riding the bike trainer, since they are indoors. (I'm not sure those count as hobbies though.)

Help me out here. There's got to be some indoor hobbies that don't require any talent. Something to do over a long winter. I can't look at shrimp all night! OR CAN I?