Saturday, March 31, 2012

I'll Be Bach - Hiking Out of the Grand Canyon

Heading out in dawn’s early light, ten miles of up, awaited.

Hitting the trail at a good pace, we scurried across The Colorado River, chatting up our adventure. It was still dark in the corners of the canyon when we came upon an Australian family. They were leisurely strolling along, and we hurried to pass them. When what to our wondering eyes should appear, but twin little girls, about five or six years. Holey-moley we said. Good luck with that. The entire family greeted us with a chipper, “G’day.”  We scurried ahead marveling that they’d gotten those little ladies into the canyon, but more importantly, we wondered how on earth they were going to get those girls out of the canyon.

Going up struck me as easier than down and we made excellent time to the halfway point, hitting it easily in just three hours. The mule deer were thick, and the canyon was gorgeous and at that moment in time, there was no place else we wanted to be. When we stopped to rest, we took off our packs, refilled our water, and took some pictures. Then suddenly little girl voices sounded in our wake. Are you kidding me?  It was the Australian family with the Barbie Twins in tow!  Well, we joked, we wouldn’t have to call for the rescue copter when we reached the top after all.

Plowing on, we passed mules heading down to the ranch; they have the right of way. You flatten yourself against the canyon wall, when the mules pass you, and tuck your toes in. We were enthusiastic when we reached the base of The Wall, as it is called. It was straight up from there to the top of the canyon, and it got colder as we headed up. That felt like a perk, jogging uphill. After a couple hours we began to peel layers off, and stopped to catch our breath, rearrange our packs, check the water situation and eat more granola.
“Do you hear that?” Hubby asked with a grin.
He leaned over the ledge, to peer at the path right below us. “It’s those little girls, they’re right down there.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”  I peeked over and sure enough, there they were, just wisping along, wandering over the path like cats with no particular place to go. I grabbed my backpack. “Hook me up. I am so not letting those little girls beat me out of this canyon.”
At this point we were beginning to pass people heading down into the canyon. Uphill hikers have the right of way, and as the hours ticked away, the reason for that was obvious. If you stopped, you lost your steam. I decided it was time to break out the spare mojo, and hooked up the iPod. I find that music makes me faster when I run, it’s magic like that. So I had packed it in case I needed that extra kick to get me up that wall. When I paused to secure my ear-buds, I spotted two teens sprawled in a crevice, like they’d melted in there. They looked up pathetically and asked, “Are you hiking down?”
“Nope, I’m heading up from Phantom Ranch.”
“What?!”  They sat up, “So are we!”
I hadn’t even gotten the playlist going when they hopped up and rushed up the trail. They could not let this Mom beat them out of the canyon.
“Cool, Hon!” I told my Hubby, “We’re their Terminator Twins.”
“Speaking of which…” he pointed to the switchback below, laughing.
Really?  What kind of genetic experiments are they doing on kids in Australia? 
We did eventually dust those Princesses, after we hit the ice. We didn’t see them again after we clapped on the Crampons and dug in. The last few miles were long and tough, and when we hit the top it was with a feeling of great accomplishment. I found the experience comparable to labor, insomuch as by the time you realize what you’re in for, it is too late to escape your fate. I’d do it again in a minute.   

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Good Times

Some people ride mules into The Grand Canyon. It’s fun to watch the way they walk the day after that. I tried really hard to find a video to insert of a mule ride down that didn’t have swearing in it. This is the best I could do, there aren’t any PG versions. I apologize for the last three seconds. Don’t watch it or listen if it will offend you. It’s not my video. I walked, remember?  And I was praying, not cussing.
I want to know how those mule riders slept that night. Every time you start to drift off, after hiking down, your brain screams, “DON’T GO NEAR THE EDGE!” and you jerk awake. Cannot fathom what your brain says after a day skimming over the edge of the trails perched on the back of a giant mule. Those mules walk on the razor’s edge of the trail; as a matter of fact I think they like to do it on two legs, judging by their footprints, looks like there are times when even one will suffice. Of course while I watched the mule rider’s rodeo-walk the morning after, I was sidling along like a crab trying desperately not to further inflame beleaguered muscles or step down for any purpose.
One of the hikers in our group had gotten sick the night before the hike down. Let’s call him Dusty. Dusty was dehydrated before we even met at the trailhead to hike down. Fortunately he managed to secure a room at the top of the canyon (since he had to stay on the rim to bark at the ants) while the rest of us headed heartlessly down to Phantom Ranch without him. “We’ll take pictures, Dusty!  Get well soon!”  We missed him, but all agreed it was better for Dusty to stay up top and live another day and he was in no condition to argue. So imagine our surprise, when on our first day at the ranch, a woman came running into camp and shouted that Dusty was on the bridge over the Colorado River and it didn’t look like he was going to make it. Amazing how no matter how much it hurts, you can run when you have to. That’s what his real friends did, but I did toss them a bottle of water to take, before continuing to write out my mule delivered post-cards.
Dusty had decided that he was hiking that canyon by George, and he did. He took a shorter, steeper trail down, a meaner one, one with no water or shade, and he only had two liters of water on him. I wish I had some of his pictures to post, where he’s lying against a canyon wall all by himself looking so wretched and homeless. The rest of us had plenty of water on our hike down, and on top of that we had an experienced canyon hiker with us. Let’s call him Saul. Saul lives in Arizona, he knows how to survive in the desert, he knew how much water we needed, he shared his snacks, and he put up with all the grief we gave him the whole hike down. “Are we there yet?  What do you mean that was only one mile?!  How much longer?”  Poor Dusty did not have luxury of Saul’s expertise, cheerful coaching, or even enough water. Dusty didn’t even have the camaraderie of a group to cheer him along. I really think he should get an, “I hiked the Grand Canyon ON MY OWN tattoo”.
Do you recall the young mother of twins who hiked down with us?  Let’s call her…  Sassy (I’m really excellent at disguising names.). Remember she’s the full-time college student/full-time job/full-time Momma of little twins?  She BROUGHT HER HOMEWORK WITH HER. Yes, she carried her Biology book in her backpack, in and out of The Grand Canyon. Surely that is worth extra credit. She spent her free day doing homework in the great outdoors, enjoying the sounds of nature. Personally I think the sounds of nature were protesting homework on vacation, but that’s just my opinion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

You're Going Down! Hiking Into The Grand Canyon

Author S.R. Karfelt, The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon/S.R. Karfelt

Hiking the Grand Canyon was not originally on my bucket list, but when the opportunity dropped in my lap I ran with it. All experience is useful in the writing world, including the painful stuff. That is how I found myself in early March, at the trailhead of a ten mile path to the bottom of The Grand Canyon. The view was daunting, but backing out was no longer an option, it was on the bucket list by then. In pen.

Now I’ve hiked formidable paths before. There are places in the Canadian Wilderness where I’ve duct taped my gloves to my sleeves to keep swarms of insects from crawling in. Places where a head-net is all that separates you from black clouds of bugs as they whip around like something out of a Stephen King novel. Hikes where you slip and slide over boulders and trudge through swamp like a 70’s war movie.

The Grand Canyon was more of a marathon hike. I’m a runner and that was pretty much meaningless when it came to the first part of the hike. If you know of a way to train for a hike that starts out with ten miles of DOWN HILL, I’d be happy to hear about it. Let me sum it up (I don’t dare be completely irreverent about it, it can be a dangerous hike): You’ve got altitude, the South Rim is 7000 feet above sea level; it is so dry if you sneeze all that comes out is a cloud of mummy dust; you might want to rub that chap-stick all over your entire face, and you will need to carry at least three liters of water, water is heavy and your gear and supplies will be on your back too; the floor of the canyon is about twenty-five degrees hotter than the top, I hiked it in winter, so that was not an issue, if you hike it in summer, good luck with that.

In March The Wall of The Grand Canyon was a fluctuating mess of solid ice, snow, slush, slippery red mud, and rocky dirt. The path is just inches wide in places, and while there is a canyon wall going up one side of you, there is a ledge leading down to a fate of coyote chow on the other. Did I ever mention that I have chronic vertigo?  I failed to mention it to my fellow hikers until we were a half hour into the hike. I try not to let my vertigo stop me from doing wildly stupid things, besides if I’d told them, they might not have invited me along.

Hiking The Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch
S. R. Karfelt

At times I found the descent like walking an icy balance beam inside a panoramic 360 degree IMAX theatre. Fortunately for me my hiking companions were a terrific bunch:
·        Three Engineers (Engineers are awesome additions to any adventure. They can use a shoelace to repair anything. Give them some duct tape and they’ll repair your spaceship).
·        One Delightful Young Single Mother of Twins who also goes to college full-time and works full-time, so of course hiking The Grand Canyon was just a way for her to relax on any given weekend. (She’d probably climb Everest on a three-day weekend if she could get a sitter.)
·        One Lovely, Fun Horsewoman trained in search and rescue was also part of our group—but sadly she didn’t bring her horse. (Still, it was very reassuring to have her there—just in case someone were to need rescued—luckily we didn’t have to find out if she’d just have said, “It’s my day off.”)
·        Me—A Writer—Besides vertigo I brought to the table, um, words. Just in case somebody forgot to pack their thesaurus, and needed another word for charley-horse in the middle of the hike.

Most of the canyon path was switchbacks, trails that zigzag impossibly down the sides of cliffs. The scenery is breathtaking. The scope of The Grand Canyon cannot be conveyed in photographs. The enormity can barely be perceived; it is a mile deep, 277 miles long, and varies to 18 miles across. There are no roads down into the canyon, there are rugged paths.

Inside the canyon you get a close up look at the geology; layers of rock stripe their way from floor to the top in glorious colors. You don’t see any of that as you hike. You see your feet. It took me seven hours to hike the ten miles down the canyon. As stated earlier, the fact that I run every day meant zip when it came to walking downhill for ten miles. Those muscles protested like two-year olds at Disney. There is this interesting little “Canyon Shuffle” walk you see everyone doing at the bottom of the canyon. It is sometimes accompanied by whimpers and whining sounds, and for those forced to go down stairs, I’m sorry to report, some expletives.

Author, S.R. Karfelt, The Grand Canyon
S. R. Karfelt

We spent a couple days on the canyon floor shuffling around in that pained gait and laughing at each other—and yes—hiking some more, just because something hurts is really no reason not to keep right on doing it, right? It was a great chance to see the canyon without worrying about falling off the ledge. Another very good reason to spend a couple days on the floor of the canyon is to get at least one good night’s sleep before hiking back up. You don’t want to spend the night you should be resting sobbing into your pillow over the thought of hiking back up. You will anyway, but at least you’ll have had one night to sleep. You in? Because once just isn't enough. I'm having that problem with my bucket list. You know, "do-overs". 

Monday, March 19, 2012

By the Time I Got to Phoenix

            You’re going to hike the Grand Canyon?” 
There was no mistaking the pity in his eyes. My stomach dropped. It was one of those moments when I wondered who writes my bucket list, if there was any hope that she would ever employ restraint, and if I’d left enough notes on the series I was writing, so that in the event that the canyon ate me, my editor-friend could finish it.
Sitting in a Mexican restaurant, listening to my friend’s story of when he’d hiked the canyon, freaked me out enough that I decided to take my last minute training seriously. The advice that had stuck in my head after all my research was, “Eat twice as much as you normally would.”  Psych!  It didn’t say when to start, but those pitying looks of ‘You’re so gonna die’ inspired me to start right then and there with chips and guacamole. There were five meals standing between me and that canyon and I was going to make everyone of them count.
            “Uh, Hon?  What are you doing?” Hubby asked as I plopped into a booth at Chick-fil-A. “I thought you were just getting water and using the Ladies… it’s a four hour drive to the canyon from here. Don’t you want to get to the rim before dark?”
            “We missed breakfast!” Waffle-fries and a chicken sandwich would have to make-do as my make-up meal. Yes, I was eating meat - the whole vegetarian thing is more of a guideline when I’m under duress. I don’t like the taste of it, but I was in training you see?
            “Um, you ate breakfast two hours ago….”
            “Look, you’re supposed to eat TWICE as much as normal when you hike the canyon. I read it on the internet, so it must be true.”
He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “six times as much,” but since no living husband has ever said that out loud, I must have misunderstood. I couldn’t ask for clarification because I was trying to choke down the chicken.
We made it to the south rim of the canyon before dark and it was snowy, windy and quite cold. We found the trail we’d be hiking down in the morning. From the top it looked like an eight inch wide, solid-ice luge chute. I headed in the opposite direction.
            “Babe?  Don’t you want to take pictures?”
            “The restaurant in this El Tovar place is supposed to be fantastic. We might be able to get in without reservations since it’s so early.”
If it was going to be my last meal (not counting tomorrow’s breakfast), I was going to make it good. There is reason to suspect that I may possibly be a stress eater.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sitting on a Cornflake Waiting for the Van to Come...

Standing in line waiting for the airport shuttle, a man tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned around, he used a hand to indicate his face, and asked, “Do I look all right?”

I live for these moments. Wanting to give him an honest answer, I focused. He looked like a mild-mannered, kindly father. “Yes.”

When he pointed to his nose, I leaned closer, squinting. There was a pretty nasty slice across it that had been expertly covered with make-up. “Oh. It’s hardly noticeable.”

“Good. I have a really important presentation to make.”

“I don’t think anybody will notice.”

Of course now that he’d pointed it out, I was not entirely sure that was true. I was starting to think about the really good Bare Mineral’s Bisque I had in my carry-on bag. Would it be too strange for me to fix this guy’s make-up?

“So my son got a puppy. An 85-pound Bull Mastiff.”

I love my life. I love that I have a face that says, “Tell me more.”


“And I put a dog biscuit in my mouth.” He reenacts this for me as he speaks. I’m beside myself with joy. “And then I did this.” The guy pats his chest.

I drop my bags on the floor when I bend over laughing. I love my life. The shuttle has arrived by the time I collect myself and my belongings, and am upright again. We’re walking to the shuttle and he looks faintly wounded by my reaction.

“So you have that kind of a sense of humor?”

Really? I wonder what kind of reaction he usually got with this story. I drag my bags onto the Knight Bus unabashed; he might as well know what happens when you talk to strangers, right?

“I’m a writer, and I’m going to use that story.”

“Well. Go right ahead. I give it to you.”

“You should use it too, when you give the presentation. Just in case they notice your nose. It’s pretty good.”

“I’m going to,” he assured me. “I have a picture of the puppy in my slides. I sell organic eggs, blue ones.”

Are you kidding me? He is the Egg Man, goo goo g’joob! I LOVE my life, and I’m starting to love airports.