Feliz Cumpleaños Brendan And Colin

I first met Brendan and Colin twenty-six years ago today. Since then we have shared innumerable amazing experiences, a credit to their generosity and willingness to open their meaningful proficiencies to me.

Thanks to them, I have enjoyed extreme sub-terranean and alti-terranean adventures, events mostly fulgurous, occasionally errant, but always vivid.

Brendan taught me to savor the quiet thrill one may enjoy during a night-time expedition through an abandoned hospital in east Texas, where his respect for once useful objects and relevant places left behind became apparent, compounding the number of reasons he deserves admiration.

Colin taught me that one’s appreciation of nature and wilderness is enhanced, not occluded by demanding conditions. On a cross-country ski and snowshoe expedition, in several feet of fresh snow, his infectious unabated enthusiasm for everything outdoors imparted a unique, enviable focus on values that matter.

I hope both of them enjoy this homemade gift on the occasion of their 26th birthday. Here’s hoping this gift finds its rightful place on their list of reminiscences that begin with the phrase, “Remember that time when Tio . . .”

First, imagine the plaza pictured below filled with hundreds and hundreds of people. School kids on field trips, families, vendors selling helado, dogs, tourists, and so on.

Catedral-Metropolitana-de-QuitoThe steps in front of this cathedral are overrun with students from a military academy, and are easy to notice because of their bright yellow jackets emblazoned with “Collegio Militar Eloy Alfaro.”

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This MP3 file is a practice recording or the speech a gringo makes to the estudiantes taking a lunch break on the steps of the cathedral:

I trimmed out the teacher bits, like when I paused and repeated my greeting in order to get a response (engage the audience!).

Many Thanks to this random group of students on a field trip to the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito. After today they may not wear their bright yellow jackets in public anymore.

 

RIM TO RIM, BABY!

THE BIG DITCH

Occasionally in my adult life, I have taken off on random adventures, some long, some short. In high school, during a teacher’s strike, two friends and I stuck out our thumbs at the bottom of Loveland Pass, heading for Salt Lake City and who knows what.

A few years later, after successfully completing a brief, court-ordered probation, I headed west by thumb again, sleeping one night on Huntington Beach, and another in a street mission where the price of a bed was a sermon. One year I rode a bicycle from Eugene, Oregon to Los Angeles, all along the Pacific Coast.

Months after involuntarily ending a management career, without a paycheck for the first time in 18 years, I took off for Europe, and rambled around by train for several months, lost then found.

The list goes on, as lists do. These adventures usually begin as neurological glimmers, as though a new synaptic branch opens up, compelled by possibility and waiting for fruition. I don’t understand why they come, or how. I just do them. On top of bragging rights, I am certain that all of these exciting, risky, and unusual happenings serve as trials or tests – necessary, mostly difficult experiences with indeterminate origins and lifelong impact. That history is what led me, I think, to attempt a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike.

GETTING THERE

I can recommend driving in to the north rim from Kanab, Utah, early in the morning. The darkness is plenary, as absolute as when eyes are closed. The only source of illumination is the reflection of headlights from yellow paint dividing the narrow asphalt on Arizona Highway 67. Unseen dark forests line the twisting path. FM radio signals from Las Vegas and Phoenix are chased, briefly captured, then released by the seek button. The only visible landmarks for a first-time traveller are small clusters of hesitant deer waiting patiently to safely cross the road, frozen as the car passes them by. In a mile or two, or five or ten, pickup trucks pulled safely from the roadway mark bowhunter territory, camouflaged archers waiting patiently for the deer. Three days from now, on the early afternoon return to Kanab, dozens of roadside signs, buildings, campgrounds, and other easily seen and expected markers line the entrance road, and give confidence to an illusion of 21st-century civilization. On this predawn October morning, it’s a 60-mile-per-hour tunnel ride, an unfamiliar path to a wild undertaking.

An early morning departure
An early morning departure

TRAILHEAD

The trailhead parking lot is busy. Car doors slam, voices chirp and chatter. There’s a line for the toilet. Only one man seems prepared for an epic voyage, sporting a loaded backpack and well-worn Danner hiking boots. Pictures of excited groups are sent away through Instagram. Tweets and Snapchats are hastily thumbed as reminders to fill water containers, along with muffled cautions like “Be safe.”

Descending North Kaibab Trail
Descending North Kaibab Trail
Bright Angel Canyon - view from North Kaibab Trail.
Bright Angel Canyon – view from North Kaibab Trail.

 

 

 

On the North Kaibab trail, it’s immediately clear that scrawny, dedicated walkers and trail runners outnumber trans-canyon overnight travellers. Within the first mile of my descent, 1,000 feet lower than where I started, I had already been passed by numerous trekkers, wearing Camelbaks, expensive off-road trail running shoes, and wielding aluminum hiking poles with facilty and skill. Many passed heading up to the trailhead. It’s 7:30 AM and these lanky maniacs are on the tail end of a 7-mile, 4,000-foot climb. I’m only unique in my bulky accoutrement, my thrift store wardrobe, and my prescription Ray-Ban Wayfarers.

Trail-runners are a consistent and amazing feature during the entire hike. It was easy to hear them coming form either direction, a distinctive scrape of steel-tipped poles against rocks in the trail, soft impact of soles in dirt, and an amazing amount of conversation, given the supposed exertion. I’m not sure, but I think I even saw 4 or 5 pounding their way past Cottonwood Campground at 1:00 in the morning.

All afternoon, individuals and groups of hikers and runners passed by the Cottonwood site. This set of folks is heading up the North Kaibab.
All afternoon, individuals and groups of hikers and runners passed by the Cottonwood site. This set of folks is heading up the North Kaibab.

COTTONWOOD CAMPGROUND

Nice site, eh?
Nice site, eh?

After 5.5 hours, 6 miles, and a 4,000-foot descent, I limped into Cottonwood, exhausted, hungry, and ready to stop walking. I was so tired I bounced from chore to chore; ate a bite, sipped some water, take an item from my pack, lay on the picnic table, then repeat the entire cycle. Tired, not sleepy. The contents of the pack, those select necessities that had been fucking with my center of gravity all day, look impossibly weight-free strewn out on the table. The back of my shirts stayed wet with sweat for several hours. Rubber-legged and panting an hour later, my position in site #1 let me sit and watch others go by, my breathing slowly normalizing even as I recognized some trail runners who had passed me going down, and realized they were heading back to the top.

Yep, it's a trail.
Yep, it’s a trail.
A rare flat section of the North Kaibab Trail.
A rare flat section of the North Kaibab Trail.

 

Reviewing my performance for the day, I was glad I went slowly and took my time. A 4,000-foot descent may sound easy, but other factors made the day’s 6-mile distance difficult. In many places the scree on the trail caused me to slide and grab for support, and most of the time the weight of my pack pulled me around at will, making a challenging trek even more challenging.

I decided to dump 3 liters of water. I consumed 2 liters so far. I knew tomorrow’s distance would be easier, and I was willing to cut weight any way I could. Completely unpacked, then repacked the next morning with a new distribution scheme i hoped would help with my center-of-gravity issues.

One hour after sundown I was comfortably zipped into the bivy bag. Next thing I knew, the sun was coming up – ten hours later.

Hard to take a “natural” selfie with a 10-second timer when the pose is 9 seconds away. My Moose Drool T was a good choice for the hike - see how well the color blends with the environment?
Hard to take a “natural” selfie with a 10-second timer when the pose is 9 seconds away. My Moose Drool T was a good choice for the hike – see how well the color blends with the environment?

 

 

 

This is the view from my campsite
This is the view from my campsite

 

 

 

Tomorrow's journey begins here
Tomorrow’s journey begins here

HOW LONG?

Bright Angel Campground arrived after only 3.5 hours on the trail. Same basic distance, 7 miles, as all three sections of a rim-to-rim hike, but a descent of only 1500 feet over the day’s journey means less fatigue and a more stable pace. Less weight, perfect weight distribution, great weather and a well-rested traveller = at the destination by 1:00 PM.

View of Bright Angel Creek & campground, looking south. Early arrivals choose riverside sites
View of Bright Angel Creek & campground, looking south. Early arrivals choose creekside sites.

So, there’s lots of time to explore, contemplate, and discover the lowest point of the Grand Canyon on this route.

Bright Angel Canyon is relatively narrow and not the vast, majestic experience of the long, deep, and wide multi-millenial water erosion attributed to the Colorado River. Further along the trail, some of the more expected, stereotypical views of “THE Grand Canyon” can be seen

Black Bridge - cables on both sides (550 feet long, 8-inch diameter) were carried down by Havasupai Indian laborers. Bridge constructed in 1928.
Black Bridge – cables on both sides (550 feet long, 8-inch diameter) were carried down by Havasupai Indian laborers. Bridge constructed in 1928.
Colorado River, “bottom” of the Grand Canyon.
Colorado River, “bottom” of the Grand Canyon.

 

 

Relief and wonder drive the Bright Angel Campground vibe. The Phantom Ranch development is a little startling – walking by the well-maintained cabins, canteen, and a large construction project after two days winding among the desert shrubs and sheer stone canyon.

Keep walking.
Keep walking, tenderfoot.

Lots of hikers, runners, construction workers, drill and generator noises, mules loaded with packs and wealthy tourists, and park rangers occupy this busy divergence. Down along the river, rafts and river travellers fill the boat beach.

 

What am I doing here?
What am I doing here?
Through this tunnel is the trail to the top - South Kaibab Trail.
Through this tunnel is the trail to the top – South Kaibab Trail.

 

Anticipation of tomorrow’s voyage keeps me awake most of the night, along with bright illumination from a full moon. I can only think about what has to be accomplished Monday in the abstract, though I know the numbers that make it real. 6.9 miles and a 4,700-foor ascent. Going up is part of EVERY Grand Canyon journey, and the way home is at the end.

RISE TO THE TOP

Finally, a “dramatic” view. Structure is a toilet/emergency phone at site known as Tipoff.
Finally, a “dramatic” view. Structure is a toilet/emergency phone at site known as Tipoff. I passed it about an hour ago, travelling ever upward.

 

Panting and resting are two dominant actions today. There’s no viable alternative, no escape plan, no choice but to make it to the top in order to begin the trek home.

The trail is busy, much busier than either section so far. Mules, trail runners, eventually hikers descending from the South Rim, my only goal for the day. Being able to accurately predict the flood of relief and satisfaction connoted by completion of today’s path would be cool, and probably motivational. I just try to keep going, stopping as often as necessary, looking back at a voyage that grew more and more amazing the higher I climbed. Mutual encouragement and friendly, sincere support between everyone on the trail is epidemic. At one of my innumerable rest stops, a downhill group of young men noticed the “Get Lost (in Montana)” sticker on my water bottle, so we talked about Bozeman, Missoula, and Glacier National Park.

Near the top, and near the end of my stamina after several hours of tortuous, incessant climbing, I met young Jacob and his parents. I didn’t know it at the time, but the end was less than two miles away. Jacob’s mom and dad challenged him with multiplication tables and arithmetic problems to keep him going up the trail to the top, where they had started around an hour earlier. Jacob whined occasionally, and I empathized with him (not aloud). Eventually, finally, we all got to the South Kaibab trailhead. A few stories were exchanged – turns out the young fam came from Colorado. Their amazement, and Jacob’s nonchalant curiosity, made me feel like a hero for doing the rim-to-rim. By the time I make it to Mather Campground, via the park’s requisite shuttle buses, many people connect the grimy appearance, the glazed, oxygen-starved countenance, and the bulky pack with a capital “J” journey. On the Blue bus, the couple nearest me asked the right questions then announced to the entire, nearly-full transport, “This man just finished walking from the North Rim.” No one on the bus looked as though they had seen more than the views from inside the shuttle.

.Zoroaster Temple is the name of that giant pointy outcropping upper left. This spot is about 1500’ up from the river – Zoroaster Temple is 7100’ high.
This is what I thought I would see #2.
This is what I thought I would see #2.
This is what I thought I would see #3.
This is what I thought I would see #3.
Looking back - South Rim
Looking back – South Rim

AFTER

I didn’t really consider the endeavor as an entire, complete thing until I finally got back to Fort Collins. Unpacked and unwound, the rim-to-rim is a concise, complete unit, an adventure to add to the list, one for the books, and so on. The impact of what I had done suddenly grew into lightning flashes of endorphins and ego. Time will wear down the sharper edges of the past few days, and when the story is told, the spikes caused by accomplishment and endurance will become more humble, easier to communicate. The one word I will use to describe the experience, mostly to myself, will be:

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A perfect Yellowstone day

Two miles northeast of Yellowstone lake, away from tour buses, commerce, and strife, is a vast open meadow, interrupted by mounds, cut and carved by meandering streams. Pale grasses wave in the breeze, and the sun and sky are forever. I’m prone in the tall Buffalograss and sedge, pale yellow for fall, crunching an excellent apple. After spotting solitary bison ringing the buttes and valleys around me, I noticed a lone wolf scampering in a wide arc about a quarter mile away, the black tail easy to spot in the immense, pale, and lovely grasses covering the valley . Though the black wolf occasionally passes the odd bison laying in the grass, they ignore each other. The wolf travels quickly, stops frequently, and, like me, seems to have no other purpose than to be in the certain serenity of the Pelican Valley. All around the valley, elk bugles echo, warnings or calls to battle. Loud and close, eerie howls from packs of wolves arise, punctuated by barks, responses from unknown rivals far away, and the eye is drawn to the tree-lined edge of this massive haven. Distant black predators are spotted – two, then ten, moving along the edge of the forest. Distant, yet closer than I have ever experienced. Call and return, motion and stillness, prey and predator, sun and grass. That’s my perfect Yellowstone day.

Eager to begin a Yellowstone Visit.
Eager to begin a Yellowstone Visit.
One of the many terrific hikes in Yellowstone. Ice Lake to Little Gibbons Falls.
One of the many terrific hikes in Yellowstone. Ice Lake to Little Gibbons Falls.
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Sunny Meadow – worth the walk.
No-name mud pots
No-name mud pots – These occur frequently, along with other geothermal features, along the hiking trails. While hard to capture, the best part of these is the deep, syncopated burbling sounds they emit.
Old Faithful
Old Faithful – View from observation point about 2/3 mile away.
Ojo de Caliente
Geyser on the Queen’s Laundry trail.
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Norris Geyser Basin –
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Fairy Falls – a favorite because we saw this one from across the valley the day before.
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More Fairy Falls
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More Fairy Falls
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Man & Elk – A great way to view wildlife of all varieties while driving along park roads is to watch for spotters & photographers
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Steamy valley view – on the return from Queen’s Laundry
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No-name pool – on the return from Imperial Geyser
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Midway Basin/Grand Prismatic – from the backside. This area fogged in both times we visited
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Foggy morning in Yellowstone
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Along the trail to Fairy Falls
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No-name geyser, along the trail from Imperial Geyser
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Pelican Valley – setting for A Favorite Yellowstone Day
One of many geothermal areas along hiking trails in the park, dangerous but accessible. Stick your fingers in!
One of many geothermal areas along hiking trails in the park, dangerous but accessible. Stick your fingers in!
My Favorite Yellowstone Day
My Favorite Yellowstone Day
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Yellowstone Lake – Near Fishing Bridge. 180 degrees and 400 yards from here, a GIANT grizzly was feeding on an elk carcass. The bear had been gorging on the elk for 5 days, according to a nearby ranger.