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Rainbows and moons

We’ve already had three snowfalls at home. We got stuck in one downstate, with cars and tractor trailer abandoned on the side and the middle of the road. It took us two hours to crawl a half mile. Never again. Then to make matters worse, the hotel we found was overbooked (“we have negative rooms”) and there was a convention of 1000 stranded lawyers who ate all the food and drank all the liquor before we got there. So we had raisin bran for dinner and called it a night. But the next day we saw a double rainbow over Newark airport.

Back home, I was able to ski my favorite trails, which Tim had already broken.

I’ve been doing a major house cleaning; a real purge. I was deciding whether to keep my stargazing binoculars. They are Elmer Fudd sized and have to be mounted on a tripod to be of any use. I set them up and could see Slip Mountain clearly off in the distance and spy on the local birds. That night, I couldn’t sleep and was able to observe our two? moons setting behind Cobble Mountain.

I think I’ll keep them.


Pack light

Since there were many heavy, non-negotiable items to carry, I saved weight by bringing few clothes and never smelled too bad.

I brought 2 t-shirts, 4 pairs of underwear, and washed one out every day; lots of wool: leggings, 2 long sleeve shirts, sweater, 1 pair of hiking pants, hand knit hat, 4 pair of hand knit socks, a lace shawl, gloves, down sweater,  waterproof shell, hiking boots, and a pair of crocs for camp. I wore every item more than once since it was November and temperature dropped to the low 40’s at night. I used a camelback for the first time and was very happy with it. 

Here is a tableau of my hand knit socks. The blue patterned socks were knit specifically for hiking and are made out of heavier yarn than I usually use. I used one pair as a pad under my shoulder straps.

My feet remained pretty happy. They really hurt on days we had heavy loads – water, all our food – and walked longer distances. A little lambs wool tucked into my socks usually did the trick.

We had long and short days. Here is our itinerary and National Park Service information. We needed backcountry permits for all our campsites.

  • South Kaibab to Indian Garden: 8+ miles, fully laden with 6 days of food, ouch, descent 3500 feet
  • Indian Garden to Salt Creek: 7+ miles still with lots of food and 6 liters of water.
  • Salt Creek to Monument Creek: 3+ miles, starting to feel good and little elevation change
  • Monument Creek to Hermit Creek: 3+ miles, rocking it except for dreading the hike out, which is getting closer and closer
  • Hermit Creek to Hermit Rapids and back: 5 miles, with NO PACK!
  • Hermit Creek to South Rim: Light pack, especially since I gave everything to Tim, 7+ miles and 3500 feet elevation gain.

I wore a hand knit lace shawl I had just finished around the camp, always stylish. It’s the forest path stole and was fun to knit. Made of silk, linen and cashmere, it’s as light as a feather and warm as toast.

I started knitting a lace shawl from the same yarn on the plane to Phoenix, which kept me occupied until I went to bed at 7:30 most night. 26 repeats, about 2 yards long. I’ll pick it up again after my Christmas knitting and weaving is finished.

Wedding shawl “Cecilia” border
A last look at Hermit Creek campsites, note the blue tent

Here’s a 360 degree view of our campsite at Salt Creek.The image works best on an iPhone because you can move the phone around and see it all.

We missed the Canyon on our flight out, but saw a beautiful sunset. It already seems like a dream.
 

Rocks and river

First of all, I’m a total weenie. I just read that a 37 year old Swedish woman broke the woman’s record for running South Rim to North Rim and back up to the South Rim again, or R2R2R, in 7+ hours!!! Hours!!! That’s 42 miles and over 11,000 feet of climbing up and 11,000 feet of climbing down! What?!

I did mention to a runner we passed, while I now realize I was crawling out of the canyon, “you must be crazy running in the Canyon” and he said, “you must be crazy carrying that pack”. To each his own.

But we did make it down to the Colorado River one day and it was fabulous. The hike into the inner Canyon, where the Vishnu schist rock layers are over 1.4 billion years old, was quite beautiful. We were walking into the deeper layers of the earth. There were lots of stream crossings over Hermit Creek to get to the rapids. The dam upriver had just released water and the river was really running.

Our first glimpse of the Colorado River along the Tonto Trail walking to Monument Creek
Descending into another era of rock layers

Hard to believe it was the river that carved the canyon.

But back to those dang rocks and rock slides. I had been dreading the new rock slides on the Hermit Trail from day one of our hike. I’m such a chicken.

They appeared scarier than they actually were.

Rock slide Hermit Trail

Most had been somewhat cleared. I was certainly happier walking up rather than down. They didn’t slow the runners that passed us on the way down.

This one was pretty new; it broke and tree and a rock.

I’m just glad it never rained or created new slides. I always wonder about the choice of words on road signs. Do I feel safer with fallen rocks or falling rocks? Actually neither.

So in the end, it took me 8 hours to hike out, which is mildly demoralizing after reading about the super runner. But I did it and there were no tears.

First, happily what we did not see: scorpions or Grand Canyon rattlesnakes. These sort of creatures are one of the reasons I can’t sleep “hard”, under the stars in only my sleeping bag.  I need the false security of my flimsy nylon tent zipped up around me. We also missed a 12 point mule deer buck, which apparently wandered through our campsite one night while we were still awake. Ah well.

We did see one when we hiked out.

Mule deer, Hermit Trail

This mule deer wasn’t so lucky but check out the beautiful sutures in its skull.

On our way down the South Kaibab trail, Tim spotted this tarantula; harmless but not so cute.

Tarantula South Kaibab

One day as I was seeing double, this rock looked like a stern man to me. Stern as in not happy, not a lobsterman’s crew.

We saw interesting lichen on our hike out. Anything to pause and take a photo.

We picked up a few cactus spines along the way and were thankful for our long pants. A few were in bloom and sometimes along the trail we would see the most delicate and colorful flowers.

I realize now, we saw yucca plants in many forms. Their roots are cassava and have lots of carbs and anti-inflammatory properties. That would have been good to know.

We saw these tadpoles in our drinking water. What were they doing there? The backstroke!  Hehe. Never fear, our industrial strength water filter got rid of whatever they may have deposited and the water tasted much better than the Phoenix city water.

Cottonwoods at the Indian Garden oasis

And this is what we saw when we returned home. Our Christmas Cactus in full bloom and our adorable feline, Elli… and ten inches of snow on the ground. But that’s another story.

There’s an art to this and it’s not always easy. This would obviously not be a good spot.

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Most would agree. Often the choice is more subtle. At Monument Creek we thought it would be nice to nestle under the trees near the stream. Maybe in the summer but not November. I took a walk and found our site was at least 10 degrees colder than one located higher. We became quite adept at picking up our tent, full of sleeping pads and bags, and moving it to the choice spot.

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At some sites, we couldn’t drink the water but it was fine to bathe and rinse our clothes.

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At Hermit’s creek we had to take the last site and it was not ideal. But we spent two nights there. When our neighbors left to hike out early one morning, we scuttled over to their still warm spot with our tent, which now also held our clothes and other assorted items. What a si(gh)t(e).

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616232CE-7B4C-4A8D-87D5-ADC43D4376B4Unlike my last trip into the Grand Canyon ten years ago, I shed no tears and Tim never had to carry my pack. My fears have diminished a bit, since we moved to the mountains but I still hate a slippery slope.  I like my boots to remain firmly planted where I tell them to, thank you very much. We hiked the same path as before, only in reverse. My body has aged a bit but perhaps my mind is stronger. On multiple occasions during my first trip I employed a Pavlovian technique. Whenever I was scared to death about a narrow path, sheer precipice, 1000 foot cliff, or generally just falling off and dying, I hummed a tune from from a Disney movie, “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go…”. And it worked. I was ready to start whistling this trip but never had to. I was able to identify where it happened before but I was somehow less afraid.

We met a young couple hiking out of our last campsite, and started to talk about the 8 mile Hermit Creek trail into the Canyon and I confessed that last time, I had to stop about a mile from the campsite. I could no longer stand up straight. My body was bent over from fear and weakness and I was unable to carry my pack one step farther. My hero went to the campsite, dropped off his stuff, came back and carried my pack in so I didn’t have to park my self on the trail. I was delighted to hear that the same thing had happened to this twenty something young woman. In fact, they never made it to the campsite and pitched their tent alongside the trail. I reassured her, perhaps trying to bolster myself too, that the return trip up an improved trail would be way easier after we had hiked for a week and had lighter packs after we ate all our food.

Later at the campsite another camper stopped by our tent to tell us he and his wife thought we were the cutest couple. They saw us playing cards, knitting and reading and aspired to be like us one day (in other words when they were as OLD as us). Compliment accepted, it made us smile the rest of the trip.

My stomach began churning on the bus ride to the South Kaibab trailhead on our first day of the trip. We met a group of men who were taking their umpteenth trip into the Canyon. We traded itinereries and told them we were hiking out the Hermit Trail. They complacently asked us if we had heard there had been a major rockslide there three weeks ago during a heavy rain. Oh noooooo! We had not and I was already worried about the old rockslides, given my first time down the trail. Great, I had something to worry about during the next 5 days in the Canyon.

I fell twice during our descent and was pretty pathetic getting up. Even Tim took a day to recover. We limped around our first campsite at Indian Garden among the Cottonwood trees. The wind came up after sundown and rustled the trees and tossed our drying clothes about the campsite. 30FFBEE8-278B-4219-8F15-A588B1775090

Our first meal was one I found on the internet from Outside magazine and may have been the best. I mixed dehydrated refried beans and minute rice at home, we cooked this then added taco seasoning, cheddar cheese and Fritos. It was delicious and packed the calories and salt we needed.

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The weather was ideal. Never a cloud in the sky and cold enough to wear all the clothes I carried.

Camera made it

And so did I. Actually, I ditched the camera and only brought my iPhone into the Grand Canyon and it held up. So did my knees and hips.

We camped in remote, beautiful spots. The stars and Milky Way were incredible. We slept for 10-11 hours every night. I was usually zipped into my sleeping bag by 7:30 pm; it got cold after sunset. I think temperatures were in the low 40’s.

Here’s one of our campsites at Salt Creek. We bathed in the creek, but the National Park Service dissuades people from drinking it, even with purifiers, due to the high mineral and uranium content. We had to carry enough water for 2 days, 7 miles. Water is heavy! Tim carried more than his fair share so I could remain a happy camper.

We hiked down (and up) from the top. 3500 foot elevation change and 8 miles via the South Kaibab trail going down and up, over rock slides and huge steps, via the Hermit trail. In between we walked on a sort of level trail, the Tonto Trail. This was our second night in the Canyon.

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