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.

Flora and fauna we did and didn’t see

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.

With trepidation but no tears

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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When to listen to or ignore the voices from the peanut gallery

Well we’ve completed our walk, all 150 miles. I’m embarrassed to admit that I realized my boots were tied too tight, which was why my old boots hurt my feet. Unfortunately, I realized this on about day 10. I think my rain pants, which hooked onto my shoelaces, gradually tightened my boots. Live and learn.

Our last day was the longest and also had the most elevation gain. I was sort of dreading it since before we arrived. Add the sore toes, sore calf, shin splints, and my dread mounted. To make matters worse, as we approached the shoulder of Mount Brandon, we saw two hikers who looked like they just arrived from Mt. Everest. While I only had on a wool undershirt, wool tee shirt, wool leggings and light pants. (I had everything else I might need in my pack),  they each wore at least two down parkas, hat, gloves and looked miserable. They had camped somewhere along the mountain. One loudly told us the weather was very bad on the other side of the mountain; very cold and the wind was howling. Did we have any idea where we were going? And the path down the mountain was treacherous and steep. Did we know what we were getting into? It was very cold and steep. This is all a gullible, chicken like me has to hear.  This is how it looked from our approach.

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But I had read the guide. I knew it would be steep but not impossible. OK, I might not turn around at this point but wait to see what lie ahead. So we walked through cloud cover, still in a tee shirt. And I didn’t get cold. Their weather scare was wrong, the wind had picked up but it was still in the low 50’s. Chicken little?

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When we were ready to start our descent we met another group of hikers headed our way, one in a tee shirt. This made me feel a little better but I should have disregarded their opinion. They were swigging from a bottle of vodka to celebrate their ascent but…they said the way up was HORRIBLE. Very bad, very steep. I sent Tim to the edge to check it out. He’s a much better hiker than me and I trust his judgement. He said it was nothing. Steep for a ways but not unlike the Adirondack mountain trails at home. So away we went. I made it and never got cold. And the sun came out.

Later that night we were celebrating in a pub and enjoying good company. The publican was even telling stories. At some point our table asked for two pints of Guinness.  I said, “make it three”. Tim said he’d like a half pint and so would she. I said, “no I would not, I would like a pint”. The crowd went wild. They almost lynched Tim. “Let her have her pint”, they cried. And so I did. These were people worth listening to.

 

 

 

Slip (ups)?

The rain abated and we headed out for another walk on a mountain that overlooks a manmade lake. Our first mistake was not bringing lunch and the town, Liausson, had no restaurant or market. Off we went to Octon to a creperie for a bowl of cider (lap it up) and crepes. Then back we came and headed into the hills. 

   
   
All was well for so much of the hike.  When we teached the top, we could see another lilliputian town on the other side of the mountain, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. Why, we could even see Spain from our backyard. 

   
 
Look at that smile. So happy. 

  
Until…we reached a shaded, canted, steep, slippery section on our descent. Let’s just say I didn’t like it one bit. In fact I had a “little” panic attack and Tim had to talk me off the cliff, so to speak, with me gripping his arm as I slipslided away. 

But descend we did with only a little butt sliding on my part. 

I shouldn’t have complained about toilets lacking seats since we encountered this one. 

  
In full disclosure we also found one with a padded seat. Not too bad when there’s no central heat. 

Then we were invited to a friend of our proprietors’ to settle up our bill, after 7. So we ate a hearty soup I made with fresh veggies from the market and headed out. Only to find  appetizers, local wine and a seafood stew bubbling in the pressure cooker. Oops. Who knew?

Where are we?

We cannot read the hiking maps. An easy walk turned into a 5.5 hour moderately difficult hike. Thank goodness we met a couple from the Isle of Skye, equally confused, who shed some light on where we might be.I became extremely quiet and stated an absolute turnaround time but we confirmed our location before we needed to turn around. 

The trail numbers are variable, Tim thinks he’s got it now, I remain dubious. But the sights, which cannot be captured by camera, were spectaculor. 

We could see our little village of Aniane way off in the distance.  

 We were even higher than the other day. I was surprised when some mountain bikers rode up the trail. 

  Some parts of the road were built more than a thousand years ago and were better than any Adirondack trail.   

We enjoyed some fresh spring water and a cold beer at the end of the hike and all was well with the world.

   
 

Time to camp, reap and dye

Summer is almost over, the crowds have left and kids (and sorry, teachers) are back in school. So we took advantage of some time off and spent a few glorious days in the woods. We hiked to waterfalls, a gorge, lots of ponds and a mountain, with lots of swimming along the way.

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I packed light with a pair of shorts with zip on legs. However, one zipper was broken and my exposed leg was enjoyed by many mosquitos at dusk. Luckily we had a bandage in our pack and I taped the leg to the shorts but couldn’t make any fancy moves for fear of another mosquito feast.

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We returned to my bountiful garden where there is not much left to do except remember to harvest now and then.

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I’ve used some of my flowers to dye yarn with, so far, mildly disappointing results. I used colorful zinnias, dahlias and day lilies (with an alum mordant) all of which produced a yellow dye.

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I saw so many mushrooms during our hike, I want to learn about mycopigment. In the meantime, I’m soaking various lichen I have collected in ammonia to see what they produce. Early results are promising.

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Balanced rocks and pickles

Yesterday was bracketed by bread and butter pickles. I salted the cukes, peppers and onions before heading out for a hike with friends.

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The day was perfect and we walked to Balanced Rocks, which offered beautiful views of the High Peaks and the slide on Cascade Mountain. The wind was whipping around the top and I’m surprised those rocks (or we) didn’t blow away.

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Here’s a link to my 360 app panorama.
When I got back home, I made bread and butter pickles. Why are they called that?

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