Monday, April 26, 2021

Return to the canyon, part 2: Cruising the Beamer (sort of)

 I nervously packed up and started on the Beamer trail by six. The other group that was heading on the Escalante route was leaving then too. We all knew the future: another blazing hot day on exposed terrain. I loaded up with three liters, overkill for 6.5 miles, but I knew it would not be at a fast pace.

"The Beamer kicked my butt," a former desert rat had told me. "It's the hardest trail in the Canyon!" I had heard about exposed shelves above the river where a single misstep could be your last. Endless gullies to climb in and out of. A miserable slog, several trip reports agreed.

The first part of the trail traverses above the river, drops into a few gullies, and then stomps along in deep sand to the next major campsite, Palisades. This part wasn't hard. Where was the narrow part, I wondered. When would the butt kicking begin?

I strolled into Palisades to discover a rafting trip. They gave me an orange. Looking around, I saw mostly sandy, sun blasted campsites. No way was I going to spend all day here (though in cooler temperatures it would be fine).  I would proceed with my new plan--hike all the way to the confluence.

The Beamer gets more serious after this point. There's a steep climb to the Tapeats and then a narrow traverse, broken in and out of various gullies. Some of these were rough and marked with cairns, but I still had to occasionally search for the route. But the views more than made up for my slow pace. 

After a couple of hours I saw the last legal campsite far below me (you can't camp at the confluence due to sensitive wildlife habitat). I puzzled over the supposed butt kicking, which had never materialized. Also, people had agonized over the narrow section. Where was that? I hadn't even noticed. What I did notice was that it felt like I was the only person on the planet.

The small beach had an overhang which was perfect for one tent. After a refreshing swim I headed to the confluence. Even though I had been told that the sky blue color of the Little Colorado was a sight to see, I still gasped in amazement. A few river rafts were parked there, and the clients were floating down the LCR to the main river. The water was warm and swimmable, even with a skim of limestone in it. It was close to one hundred degrees at two in the afternoon, but this was heaven.

I finally returned to my campsite for a starry night, the sound of the river, and nobody else around. I knew the next day would bring a return to Palisades and wind gusts of over 35. Unless I wanted to be blown off the cliffs for a one way trip down the Colorado, I would need to start early. For now, there was nowhere I would rather be.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Return to the canyon, part one: to Tanner Beach

 I sat in idling traffic, feeling more annoyed by the minute. In total, it took three hours to travel the four miles from just outside Tusayan to the entrance gate of Grand Canyon National Park. While admitting that I was part of the problem, I also couldn't believe the traffic jam. In all my years of coming to the Canyon, I have never had to wait to get in. Maybe I've just been lucky.

I had built in an extra day before my permit started in case the flights were weird, so I spent an exorbitant amount of money to stay on the rim. Hiking along the rim trail was also deeply weird. There were more people than usual, and no international travelers. Just white people as far as the eye could see.

I drove to the Tanner trailhead to scope it out so I could leave by dawn the next day. A trio of intrepid explorers were packing to go in. "I've been in the canyon 90 times," one of them felt compelled to say. He also mentioned that the trail I was planning to connect to, the Beamer, had "kicked his butt." I felt more and more nervous. The Park Service's description of the Tanner and Beamer isn't overly welcoming. The words "nasty" and "eroded" feature prominently. Also, a heat wave had descended on the canyon. It was going to be in the high 90s, and one day the winds were going to gust to 35. For Pete's sake, I thought, why am I doing this? Is this really dumb?

My nervousness had reached a high point the next morning as I stepped onto the Tanner, burdened with four liters of water. The sun was just beginning to rise, and it was still cool. Many trip reports bemoaned the first mile and a half, which descend 1800 feet. However, I was relieved to find that it wasn't scary, just painfully slow. There were some scrambles, and careful feet placement was required. 

It took an hour and a half to reach the top of the redwall, where the walking became briefly easy before diving down through the sandstone, which was composed of rolling rocks. Still, I was enjoying myself as I came upon a man trudging upwards just past what is ominously named Furnace Flats.

"I'm halfway!" he declared. It was clear that he wasn't even close to halfway, but he insisted, "Look, there's the watchtower! It's really close." He then described how fit he was and that he had hiked nine miles every day of his trip. I left him to his delusions, knowing I was only about an hour to Tanner Beach. A river oarsman on a layover day joined me, hefting a large umbrella. I looked on enviously. I have a trekking umbrella and remain unconvinced of their benefits, since they seem to inhibit airflow, but shade in the Canyon is a wonderful thing. However, I can't seem to find a good attachment to my pack, so I left mine behind.

I hit Tanner Beach in less than five hours, and my butt wasn't kicked. It was only eleven, but the temperatures were reaching roasting. I didn't relish the thought of a sandy hike to the next beach, so I decided to swim and read for the rest of the day. I'm not normally good at this, but there's something about the Canyon that invites relaxation. I hurry through life as it is, why not sit still for a while? The water was breathtakingly cold, but refreshing. I saw several rafting trips hurtle through the rapids.

I sat and contemplated my life choices. I had planned to move my camp three miles to Palisades, stay there for the night, and then do the 12 mile day hike to the confluence with the Little Colorado the following day. The high temperatures and predicted wind dictated a change in that plan. I had read that the Beamer had very exposed, narrow sections. A friend in town had claimed that the Beamer had "kicked his butt." That was two reported butt kickings. I was nervous about the following day, but the sound of the rapids and the bright stars drifted me off to sleep. I was back in the Canyon, a place that for whatever reason, seems to be my place.

Friday, April 9, 2021

We interrupt regularly scheduled programming...

 I want to tell you about my hike (spoiler alert, I panic packed too many warm clothes and ended up carrying them down 5000 feet and back up again unworn) but two things have happened which I wanted to mention. 

One, my new book came out! I wrote it in 2017, so it is kind of strange for it to be "new" (publishing takes forever!) and I am not sure I would have written it today. But here we are. I feel the usual mix of terror and excitement: for a relatively private person, I'm not sure why I put myself out there so much in my writing. I'm not one to yap about my life to strangers. But once again: here we are. 

I'm not writing this to push sales; buy it if you want, don't if it doesn't sound interesting. It's just a big milestone that I am proud of achieving. I recall many tourists asking me on my nature walks in national parks what my degree was in. "English," I said hesitantly. Cue the snarky laugh. "What are you going to do with THAT?" So there, tourists.

Second, J tore his Achilles skiing. Unfortunately, the Achilles is not something that heals quickly. Which means that my summer will be a much different one than I planned. I had planned to stay local, but to continue backpacking every weekend. With three dogs to exercise, someone to caretake, and two tiny houses to deal with, that probably won't be happening. I am trying to see the bright side of this but since our short alpine summer is what makes going to work worth it, it is looking pretty grim. Of course, I'm not the one who has to deal with the rehab and the annoyance of not being able to hike, bike ride, and everything else, so there is that.

Tell me something good to brighten my day!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Not good at traveling anymore

 Camel called me from the trailhead. "Bring microspikes," he advised. A man in his group had been traversing ice and fell, breaking his leg. "Also, I'm standing in the forest freezing," he added. Previously he had enthused how light his pack was, saying he had really few clothes along due to the projected heat.

I stared at my pack. An overnighter or even a local backpacking trip, I'm good with. I keep stuff in a tote and can pack in minutes. There are a few additions; in Hells Canyon you always pack tecnu, for example. There are things I always camp with, including a puffy coat, a rain jacket even if the forecast calls for sun, and a buff, useful for pinch hitting as a hat, for an impromptu top, or a towel. But with projected hot temperatures and with being farther away, I was somehow incapable of packing.

It wasn't always this way. If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know I section hiked the PCT over 8 years. This involved multiple flights, changing weather conditions and different needs for gear. I got pretty good at shakedowns and taking only what I needed. Now, after over a year of not traveling to hike, not so much.

I agonized, performing what my friend Ken calls panic packing. This involves confidently packing, then second guessing and unpacking. Repeat. There is nothing worse than being out for several days and not having something essential (ask Flash, who hiked Section A of the PCT with me in a time when it was supposed to be warm. She bought gloves in Mount Laguna). I've also panicked and overpacked, which is known as carrying your fears (ask Flash; on that same section I had rushed to REI to buy leggings, never mind that I already had a pair of long underwear. They'll get sweaty if I hike in them and then I won't be able to sleep warmly! I rationalized. Sweat was the least of our worries on that section).

Finally I had to give up and just go with it. However, at my destination I still pondered. Do I need a floppy sun hat? Collapsible bucket? Do I have too much food?

So yes, I am bad at traveling to hike now. And yes, I did travel. This is the only place I'll really talk about it for now since traveling invites plenty of judgment. But I'm staying safe, will quarantine after, and this is much needed.

I'll let you know if my panic packing was successful in a few days! And the picture up top is another reason I am bad at traveling. I can't stand to leave her!