What a blessing . . . to shoelessly descend the North Kaibab Trail at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon!
What made the experience even better was that I had just finished a career-pinnacle moment: leading my first multi-day creative writing workshop! (Thank you Grand Canyon Field Institute for making this possible . . . and I can’t wait till June 17-19, 2016, when I will be facilitating a similar GCFI adventure.)
!! I don’t usually use so many of these !! but !! it was that kind of week!!
We spent four days wandering the trails of the North Rim, stopping often to admire the wildflowers and creatures who make their home here.
When the workshop was over, I said “farewell” to my fellow writers, loaded up my pack with the bare minimum of gear, and took off down the North Kaibab Trail to spend one last night . . . below the rim . . . at Cottonwood Campground.
With temperatures way over 100 degrees F in the inner canyon, I didn’t need much: just a light foam pad, a silk sleeping bag liner, and a bit of no-cooking-needed food. (Somehow I managed to come up with enough other stuff to get my pack up to 16 pounds. Water? The book I ended up not reading?)
When the temps are life-threateningly hot, hikers need to “get over” any ideas about needing to look cool (figuratively, not literally), and just get their brolly on. I know I would not have chosen to hike into the summer-super-heated canyon in the middle of the day (note to hikers thinking about doing this . . . make sure you start at 4 am, not 8 am like I did . . . but I wanted to say “goodbye” to my writing peeps . . . ) without my moveable shadow.
Here I am at the bottom of the notorious switchbacks that begin after the Supai Tunnel. As the photo illustrates, the shade stops here at the Redwall Bridge.
What’s a barefooter to do? Put on some hiking sandals (my old faithful Merrell Pipidae Wraps) and keep on trekkin’ . . . and trekkin’ . . . until seven miles down the trail, Cottonwood Campground comes into view, along with its easy access to a dunking spot in Bright Angel Creek. At 1 pm on an excruciatingly toasty afternoon, plopping in the creek fully clothed seemed like the most logical thing to do.
This refreshing dip was all I needed to get me energized to hike another mile-plus into the Canyon . . . to Ribbon Falls, where one can hike behind the waterfall at a place sacred to many people, but obviously not to the two shirtless young men who were passed out in the red dust next to suspicious-looking containers of some kind of (whiskey-ish?) liquid. I thought for a nano-second about photographing them (waterfall-desecration-shaming?) but turned my attention to the falling water instead.
Unable to linger with knuckleheads so close by, I headed back down the rocky steps to find a more private dipping pool . . . which I thought I did, but I guess I did not realize the extent of the crazy maze of trails through boulders and brush that provide way too many ways through the small canyon (habitat fragmentation, anyone?).
So there I was, doing my own version of “passed out by falling water with few clothes on” . . . when all of a sudden I heard AND felt bodies dropping to the ground inches from my head. Yep. My dead-end spot next to a boulder was, actually, part of someone’s boulder-strewn path down canyon. (I could almost hear Coyote’s laughter as my anticipation of some kind of intensely-meaningful-experience-of-deep-insight at this ancient sacred place turned, instead, to a bit of embarrassment (go back and re-read what’s in bold) in front of rock-hopping strangers.
Then the thunder began, and as I looked up and realized the extent of the dark clouds building on the rim above the waterfall, I figured it might be intensely meaningful to get to a safer place just in case the summer monsoons had arrived. (They hadn’t. Oh well.)
All the inner canyon was in shade, though, thanks to the gray cloud cover, so I thought I’d leave my sandals off and hike the 1.4 miles back to Cottonwood barefoot. Holy heat wave, Batman! The ground was still too hot to touch, with hand or foot, so I got shod up and slowly (feeling like a wrinkly desert tortoise conserving energy) made my way back to camp.
After a gorgeous starry night, filled with the sounds and sights of creek-whisper, cricket-song, shooting stars, ants on my tummy, and bat wings inches from my face, I woke up when I smelled cigarette smoke (I had some really quiet but fiercely chain-smoking neighbors across the mesquite hedge in the next site) and figured the earlier the better to beat the heat on the way up and up (and out).
Dawn lights the sky early in these parts, soI never needed a headlamp, even though I was on the trail by 4:30 am.
Ahhh . . . the hike up . . . seven miles of barefoot fun with all kinds of ancient rocks greeting my toes with friendly massages the whole way.
Once or twice the trailside springs and seeps added a bit of muddy relief.
Then . . . one reaches the Supai Tunnel (named after the rock formation that got blasted through to create it).
It is a transition of magnitude, for all kinds of reasons, not the least being the fact that mules are not allowed below this point.
Which, to turn that thought around, means they ARE allowed above the tunnel, and the multiple mule trains a day grind the ancient sea-floor rocks to the finest, most delicate, superbly delightful, just plain poofy . . . dust.
(Dust which magically turns me feet the color of the canyon.)
Along with dust-manufacturing, the mules also create . . .
. . . prodigious piles o’ poo.
The flies are happy about that, and have opened several five-star resorts in the summer-long cesspools of mule piss.
(Use your own olafactory imagination to provide a hint of the scent.)
Rim-to-rim hikers always pose by the sign, below, for “documentation” of their exploits; while I had only hiked 8.4 miles into the Canyon (as far as Ribbon Falls), I posed by the trailhead sign anyway.
A flyer was taped to the sign . . . something about an “Excessive Heat Warning.”
Uh, yeah . . . no one in their right mind should venture down into the Canyon when it’s this hot.
Maybe I was in my left mind?
I can’t wait to do it again . . .
After weeks of lovely “May gray” and “June gloom,” our sunny So Cal mornings are back, which means barefoot excursions need to be executed before the mid-day sun boils the trail dust.
May passed in a flash of work and family busy-ness; June work has lessened (but not evaporated). Then there’s spending time with the six grandkids who are so much fun to hang out with . . . leaving me with challenging time choices.
In my fleeting free moments, I’d way rather go for a barefoot hike/run than sit at my computer and view/sort/select/crop/re-size photos for this blog . . . but today dawned unscheduled, quiet, with a nice “June gloom” layer of coastal low clouds to reassure me the trails will stay cool for barefoot running all day. (That’s an important summer consideration; early in my barefoot running days I ventured out at Peter’s Canyon around 3 pm on a July afternoon. Soon I was darting from one sage to the next, attempting to cool my soles along the trail, stupidly determined to complete my pre-determined loop around the wilderness park, stupidly ignoring the signals my feet were sending. I paid for it with an enormous–2″x3″–blister that kept me from running for a while. Now I try to plan my runs for when the trails will be comfortable: in summer, early or late; in winter, any time after the morning chill has dissipated.)
The following images are a mish-mash of early summer fun, keeping in mind my goal that this blog inspire folks to
1) get outside barefoot and enjoy themselves (barefoot. Barefoot-barefoot-barefoot. Did I mention barefoot?)
2) appreciate their own “local nature” . . . if crowded Orange County, CA (pop. 3 million +) still has a lot of cool native plants & critters & “wildness” . . . I hope readers will want to discover what natural beauty their own home ground has to love and preserve.
May the following photos (and words) do that. (If nothing else, this blog has become the diary/journal I always wanted to create as a child, but never could quite keep going for more than a few entries: “Dear Diary, I don’t know what to write. Good-bye.” Now I have almost five years of words-and-images to cheer me up when trail-time is scarce.)
“The Boucher Trail is arguably the most difficult and demanding of the south side trails.” (From the National Park Service description: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/Boucher_Trail.pdf)
For the reason above–as well as the fact that I was jointly responsible (as a WFR assistant) for the well-being of the eight participants who signed up for the Grand Canyon Field Institute’s “Hands-on Springs Survey Backpack: Hermit-Boucher-Slate”–I reluctantly donned socks and sandals for most of last week’s Grand Canyon adventures (40-ish miles of backpacking and day-hiking from the Hermit’s Rest trailhead to the far reaches of Slate Creek, with side excursions up and down Hermit and Boucher drainages documenting springs and plants).
Without my Merrell Pipidae Wrap sandals (which are awesome: amazingly light, flexible, and tough! and for those reasons no longer manufactured!) I could not have kept up with the determined group as they trekked up and down and over and through this Grand world of ancient shattered rock.
In the side canyons, though, those miraculous places of seeps and springs and green life, I was able to shed the sandals and experience the pleasure of desert water and storm-sculpted stone: aaahhhh.
It’s “too soon” to be able to process it all in words, so I’ll just post these images and continue to think and write about this awe-filled experience that I was fortunate to share last week with two extraordinary trip leaders and eight plucky hikers ranging in age from 17-70.
Happy (almost-barefoot, Grand Canyon) Trails!
We had a freakish April rain a week ago–April showers are not the norm around here, even in non-drought times. So when I found this almost-disappeared bit of water in the middle of the trail, I had to stick my foot in it . . . one last sploosh of mud until who-knows-when. (Our next rain might not be until November . . . )
As for the overly-alliterative title to this blog post . . . it’s National Poetry Month, and alliteration is a very old Anglo-Saxon poetry technique. So there’s that.
I was going to use “barefoot” in parenthesis (SEO, baby), but then I got a bit obsessed with the “p” constraint, and decided a foot without a shoe has been peeled of an extraneous layer. “Final” had no such p-centric synonyms, so “peculiar” seemed a slightly related word (love my www.thesaurus.com!).
Despite the dryness of our times, we did have enough rain this past season to inspire some lovely native blossoms (“painted plants” is a terrible synonym, but what ya gonna do). Thus and so and here we go: the rest of this post is just. Flowers. California native wildflowers! (From a run in the hills outside of Irvine Regional Park two days ago . . .)
As the very fortunate coordinator of a community garden, I was able to welcome a group of young people today from a local transitional living home to tour the garden and plant corn . . . what fun we had examining roly-polys and spiders, making bouquets, sniffing herbs, and getting messy in the dirt.
What really did my heart good was when, about an hour into our garden time, I mentioned how good it felt to be shoeless, and several of the kids immediately decided to take off their tennies and spend the rest of the time planting corn . . . barefoot!
(Truth-in-barefoot-advertising-fine-print-advisory: after the kids left, I went for a stroll in a part of the garden where we have been battling milk thistle all winter/spring: ouch. Even after I got home, I still felt tiny spears jabbing me, and had to get out my needle/flashlight/magnifying glass kit for a little R&R . . . rout and remove.)