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How to hike 28 miles in Grand Canyon in the summer heat

June 29, 2019

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[Warning: this blog post is almost as long as a 28-mile hike; photos are few because I was trying to survive.]

After my five-day chilly backpacking trip down (and through, and across, and back across) a 38-mile section of the Paria River last month, it seemed like a good idea that my next adventure would be a “rim-to-river” hike at Grand Canyon–an itinerary with NO CHANCE of toe-numbing cold and close-to-stumbling almost-hypothermia.

Background: a rim-to-rim hike at Grand Canyon means hiking 21 or 23 miles, depending on which trail of the two South Rim “main corridor” trails you choose: the 7-mile short ‘n’ steep South Kaibab, or the 9-mile (‘n’ still steep) Bright Angel.

On the other (north) side of the Colorado River, there is only one option: the 14-mile North Kaibab trail, which angles gently for 1600 feet of elevation gain during the seven miles nearest the river. The seven miles nearest the trailhead is over twice as steep, with a 4100-foot elevation gain.

I’ve done several rim-to-rim hikes of varying degrees of barefooted-ness, as well as a variety of elapsed times: from my FKT barefoot cruise of 10 hours/40 minutes, to a leisurely five-day saunter with a group of photographers.

I’ve gone rim-to-river from the South Rim plenty of times as well, summer and winter, with overnights at Bright Angel Campground or the snore-filled ladies bunkhouse at Phantom Ranch.

Ready for a new (and WARMER THAN PARIA) challenge, not too long ago I got a walk-up permit at the North Rim Backcountry Office for two nights at Bright Angel campground: a rim-to-river trek of  28 miles round trip, with about just under 12,000 feet of elevation loss/gain.

Yeah, that’ll warm ya up, in mid-June.

But–unlike other inner-canyon hikes of mine in Junes past (I try to spend at least one night down in the canyon every year after my annual three-day writing workshop in the forests of the North Rim), this year there was no heat alert in the weather forecast. No heat alert! Woo hoo! Just mild (for June in Grand Canyon) temps in the mid-90s.

What to pack . . . what to pack . . .

Not having read Lawrence Gonzales’ eye-opening book Deep Survival yet, I had no idea that my rational brain was not in charge of what went into my pack: enough (heavy) cold-weather gear to survive, you know, maybe another five days of cold, wet hiking along the Paria River.

“You carry your fears in your backpack,” a wise person once told me.

So there I was, with at least 10 pounds of fear-of-being-cold stuffed in my pack . . . stuff that I would not only not need, but that would prove almost disastrous in the 100+ degree heat I encountered down in Grand Canyon.

I got up early enough to be on the trail at 4:30 a.m., a lovely time of day, no need for headlamp this “late” in the morning, a pleasant chill in the air at 8,240 feet (elevation of North Kaibab trailhead).

Determined to make good time and get through the notorious “Box” section of the trail (three miles of steep cliffs and life-threatening trapped heat late in the day), I ate and drank on the move as much as possible, with just a few ten-minute breaks during the entire 14 miles. But I made it to camp, feeling pretty chipper, in less than eight hours, after logging about two miles in the middle of the hike barefoot and enduring the rest in Sockwas (first five miles) and then my old Merrell Pipidae Wrap sandals (last seven miles).

(For some reason the sandals were pebble magnets, and every 4-5 steps I had to pause and maneuver any collected debris out of them. Annoying and time-consuming, but the ground had become too warm for barefooting to be comfortable.)

Just before the campground stands the (in)famous thermometers, which both read over 100 degrees. So much for the temperate 90s I had been expecting, but I had made it!

My feet felt great, my tummy felt ready to munch.

First things first: choose a campsite. I picked #8, a few feet from the cheery rock-burbles of sparkling Bright Angel Creek.

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Next: set up tent/rainfly/footprint: total weight, 3 pounds. Probably not necessary, I thought, since there’s no rain in the forecast, and I’ve camped in the canyon without a tent plenty of times, just a silk liner & bivy sack.  But tents are nice for privacy, right?

And privacy was what I needed to hide ALL THE EXTRA CRAP I’d brought along because (drum roll) I was afraid of being cold:

Down bag. Silk sleeping bag liner. Wool long underwear (top and bottoms). Fleece top, 3/4 zip.

Combination pack cover/poncho/tarp (which I wore EVERY SINGLE DAY during the Paria trip–it was my saving grace, cutting wind and shedding rain like the bad-ass piece of multiple-use gear that it was).

Down jacket.

Seriously? A down jacket? DOWN IN GRAND CANYON IN MID-JUNE? Was I crazy? Maybe not exactly, but reading Deep Survival has helped me understand the lack-of-rationality behind my decision(s) to carry all this extra, extra-heavy gear (an interesting book; highly recommend.)

But none of this self-incrimination was yet floating around in my head, because: lunch.

My usual down-in-the-canyon-in-the-summer eating consists of: no stove. I don’t do coffee or tea, I’ve learned about overnight oatmeal, and the extra weight of a stove and fuel canister had never seemed necessary. Until this trip, during which I was carrying a crap-ton of residual angst and not. Thinking. Clearly.

So, in the 100-plus-degree heat, tired of eight hours of carb-and-nut-and-dried-fruit snacking–I used my MSR Pocket Rocket to boil me up exactly one cup of water. Added bullion cube, tuna packet, organic rice noodles, coconut oil, seasoning. Mixed well.

Burned my tongue trying to eat.

Added water to cool it down.

Scarfed it.

Yummy? Yes.

Worth an extra pound for stove and (big, full) fuel canister?

At the time, it seemed like it.

One of the pleasures of the Bright Angel Campground is the proximity of the eponymous (gosh I love that word) creek, where after lunch I spent some time sitting and soaking in the red-cliff/cottonwood counterpointy beauty.

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Thirty seconds after exiting the creek, being immediately dry, I decided to hike the quarter mile or so to the famed Phantom Ranch Canteen. This time the shade thermometer read 106 F. The thermometer in the sun? 128 degrees.

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It was “only” 100 when I got there . . .

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Yikes, and time to do something I’d never done before: spend $4.50 for a cup of lemonade. Did I mention it came with ice? And refills were “only” $1?

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OK. So now the lemonade is gone, I’m chewing on ice, and there are still at least four hours till the canyon darkens enough for sleeping.

It’s too hot to think or write, I think.

What to do right now? What to do all day tomorrow, when temps are forecast to be even higher down here?

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Hang out on Boat Beach, of course–a lifetime happy place where I have spent many a lazy hour scrunched in the sand under the shade of a tamarisk, staring at the endless eddies and upwells that give life to the green surface of the Colorado River. Also adding life this time: violet-green swallows swooping inches . . . fractions of inches . . . from the swirling river until just the right moment . . .

. . . and then: a swallow would bend its head, dip its beak for a milli-second in the water. Is this how they drink? Or are they hunting surface bugs? Without slowing down, white tail band flashing, the bird would burst into a frenzy of wing beats that carried it back up, around, dizzying down again, with the dark jumbled Grand Canyon basement rocks twice visible in and above the wind-less water.

From my journal just then: Picked up pencil and notebook for a few minutes hoping to write a poem . . . let’s see . . .

Swallow in a swoop of white
skims the green river
that boils from below
whispers around rocks
cool breeze from down-river
overwhelm of smell
and riffle music
deep and shallow
cottonwoods’ twisty petioles
making the most of sun
evening hot in the tamarisk shadow
what else is over, River?
River where I learned to waterski
far downstream, same river
steady in the flow and tug
that green, this green
perfume and layers
stories hover here
even after I leave
cliffs, wind
could one word
conjure it all
back up the trail
back in the truck
back on the highway
back to anything and everything
that is not this
rock – river – sky – swallow swoop

After an hour or two on Boat Beach that afternoon, I realize I need to leave. Another day here in the heat would be one day too many, so I wander blissfully barefoot (the ground finally cooling after the cliffs take the sun) back to camp, tell the patrolling ranger I’ll not be staying the second night of my permit. “Thanks,” she replies. Neither of us care to continue with inquiries, explanations. It’s too darn hot.

I rehearse my exit options: hike up one of the shorter trails to the South Rim (as I mentioned, South Kaibab trail = 7 miles, Bright Angel trail = 9 miles) and make it a rim to rim hike? That would mean paying for the Trans Canyon Shuttle at $90 + tip, though. And a four-hour van ride to add to my nine-hour drive home. (Plus they usually require 24-hour notice.)

OK. Not the shuttle.

I’d be hiking out the same looong 14 miles that brought me here, only . . . only . . . uphill now. With all that fear-weight dragging me down.

“Grand Canyon: Hiking down is optional, hiking up in mandatory.”

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Barely visible in the mid-photo shadow: Ribbon Falls

Maybe I could leave some gear behind, you know, a gift for hikers to come? Like my ridiculous one-pound canister of stove fuel?

Just the fact that I had that thought makes me cringe. Only absolute knuckleheads (I would say “idiots,” but my grandson is trying to break me of that kind of name-calling) do stupid stuff like that. It’s called littering, and I’ve heard lots of stories from hikers and rangers describing all the gear that desperate people have left along the trail: sleeping bags and stove fuel being two of the most common.

So jettisoning cargo was not gonna happen.

But how to minimize the heat factor? Start at midnight? 2 am? That would get me off the trail by early afternoon, based on the old formula of “two miles per hour plus one hour for every 1000 feet of elevation climb.” Fourteen miles = 7 hours.  6000 feet of elevation gain = add 6 hours. Yikes. I’m looking at 13 hours on the trail?

But I really don’t like hiking in the dark, don’t like having to rely on the flat light of a headlamp to illuminate all the rocks and steps and rock steps. Did I mention that I call the last few hours of switchbacks the Five-mile Stairmaster?

I decide on a reasonable wake-up time of 3 a.m.-ish, at which time I will strike the tent (a phrase which means “take down the tent” and which is reported to be Robert E. Lee’s last words), pack up all my ridiculous layers of clothing, and start plodding 14 miles back to my car. It’s light enough (or barely dark, depending on your pack being half full/empty) to hike without artificial light, so around 4 a.m. . . . here I go.

While my hike down the previous day was relatively carefree, that was 14 miles ago.  So, to make it out of there with my (%$@&!) heavy pack would require a thoughtful plan . . . and disciplined execution there-of.

Therefore: I decided I would stop every 30 minutes and sit and eat and drink. No exceptions. Even if I felt fine during the early miles. I’ve read enough advice–and hiked enough miles–to know that if I waited until I was thirsty, hungry, or tired, it would be too late.

I also stuffed one of my two (which was one too many, but let’s not go back to the over-packing shaming) long-sleeve cotton blouses into a plastic zipper bag and poured in enough water to soak it real good. This would be my reward for making it as far as the Redwall Bridge (3.5 miles from the trailhead), which is at the bottom of The Switchbacks, where the steepest sufferfest really begins.

So: scheduled stops, wet shirt, extra water–but not too much, because of the extra weight, and . . . my secret weapon: an old GoLite hiking umbrella to shield me from the sun after it rose up from behind the cliffs which shaded the first seven miles of trail (yippee for that).

And those first seven miles went dang OK. I had decided to wear my new-ish Merrell Vapor Glove 4 running shoes (which had served me well during the Paria trip). While I had not wanted to wear them on downhill Day 1 due to concerns over possible toenail damage (which never happens in sandals), it seemed like they would allow me to expend less energy focusing on foot placement. Footwear in Grand Canyon: a crucial consideration, since blisters can add so much extra suffering to an already challenging situation.

So . . . those first seven lovely miles went (relatively) quickly due to the gradual elevation gain and strict adherence to The Plan; every 30 minutes I rested and hydrated and kept my electrolytes in balance by gobbling salty, savory snacks: dried mango, various organic cereal bars, mixed nuts, peanut butter packets, etc.

And while all these foods tasted OK the first seven miles, when the trail got steep, and my pace slowed to one or two foot-steps per second (yeah, I was counting that a lot to keep focused), and the 100+ degree heat beat through even my trusty umbrella . . . well . . . there was not much left in my snack bag that was even remotely appealing. Which meant: time for my secret, secret weapon . . . ProBar Bold Organic Energy Chews

I had scored a ton of these for about 75% off their retail price at Grocery Outlet a year or so ago, but they have livened up many a hike over the years, on sale or not.

So that worked for a while. Until it didn’t. Until I began to focus on how slow my steps were, how long these last seven miles were taking, how steep the trail was (“Did I really just go up a step as high as my thigh?!”), how endless the switchbacks, how HOT I felt . . . wait a minute . . .

Didn’t I attend a ranger talk once and learn one of the most important rules for hiking Grand Canyon: “If you’re hot, you’re stupid.”

By golly, I might be a lot of things: old, stubborn, unrealistically optimistic about my ability to hike 28 miles in two days carrying 30 pounds of mostly unnecessary gear, but NO ONE WAS GONNA CALL ME STUPID!

So, even though I was still miles from the Redwall Bridge (where The Plan called for me to put on my wet blouse), I set my pack down (and that was getting old, removing and replacing 30 pounds from my back every freaking 30 minutes).

There it was: the magic plastic zipper bag with a nice soppy yellow cotton gauze blouse, and right there on the trail I stripped down (OK, I had a sports bra on, so it wasn’t that unseemly) and slid my arms into all that refreshing drippy-ness.

Dang. I wasn’t stupid, I was downright chilly! (Not Paria-River-hiking chilly, though. That would have been too too much.)

Of course the chilly didn’t last, but when my sleeves dried–it only took about 20 minutes–I took some of my extra water and re-soaked myself.

Rinse and repeat, baby, all the way to a triumphant trailhead finish, complete with brass quartet fanfares and  . . . I wish.

About the time I needed that good soaking, I had to put my umbrella away because I needed two hiking poles to haul my sorry self up and over all. Those. Rock. And. Log. Step-ups.

So the sun’s back to beating on me, the trail is getting steeper, and, oh yeah, this little hike takes you from 2,480 to 8,240 feet above sea level. Yep: the more miles you hike on this trail, the less oxygen available to your burning lungs & muscles. (Drama disclaimer: my lungs and muscles never burned on this hike because part of The Plan was to never hike above a pace where my lungs and muscles did. Not. Burn. That’s how you can hike all day and not–theoretically–burn out.)

This is starting to become my longest blog post in the last 9+ years since I began Barefoot Wandering and Writing. To that I can only say, “yikes,” and humble-brag that I was able to do four whole miles barefoot that memorable day of my boiling hot 14-mile trek up and out the North Kaibab trail. (There’s this creek crossing a ways below Cottonwood Camp; the most enjoyable way to cross is, of course, sans shoes.)

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And up and out I went, counting my steps: one, two. One, two. Singing old Lutheran hymns. Wetting my sleeves. *Trying* to keep eating, although by this time I had begun to  substitute food fantasies for the real thing: “I’ll have a double double and fries and a large coke and twelve strawberry shakes!”

Above 7,000 feet in elevation, I was sitting every couple of minutes, using my long-time familiarity with the trail to envision exactly how many more switchbacks there were after the Coconino Overlook.

Then: not one, not two, but three mule trains went by, a few minutes apart, giving me even more opportunities to: sit. And then grunt back up, adjust my pack (my grubby old Mountainsmith Phantom, with hardly any padding left, but it still works, so . . . ), and keep counting those steps. One, two. One, two.

And imagining food . . . maybe a burger and pie and cookies at the Jacob Lake Inn? I’ve eaten there after hikes before; that would be fantastic, too.

I didn’t think about too much else; it’s weird how my range of ideas narrowed to just: stepping a few more steps. Sipping a bit more water. Wetting my sleeves one more time. Stepping. Putting into practice (one of the many) long-distance lovers mantras: RELENTLESS FORWARD PROGRESS (also the title of a book I have not read).

OK, this blog post is starting to feel as long as the hike.

Long story short: I made it. In 10 or so hours, after which I hopped in my truck and immediately started the 9+ hour drive home. Yeah, that’s a smart thing to do. But with enough Trader Joe’s Organic Green Tea in me, I can drive a loooong time with hardly a blink.

Home before midnight; I don’t remember showering, but I hope I did before falling into bed next to my patient, non-hiking husband.

Happy (safe) Summer Trails! Stay cool!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How does a poet celebrate Grand Canyon National Park’s centennial?

June 14, 2019

With poetry, of course!

Actually, I wrote these particular poems eight years ago while spending three (barefoot) weeks as Artist in Residence at Grand Canyon’s North Rim; the editor of the 2019 centennial magazine (National Park Service/Grand Canyon/Publications Program Manager Jo Lombard) asked me for some poems last year . . . and . . . now the magazine has appeared!

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To be on the same page as Serena Supplee’s stunning artwork . . . a career highlight!

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And then to have my words end the magazine . . . overlaid on Clarence Dutton’s intricate 19th century art!

Re-reading my poems in the magazine got me in a nostalgic mood . . . time to travel back to June, 2011, I guess . . .

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One of my favorite spots, then and now, along the Transept Trail.

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My cabin for three weeks in June 2011, at a time in my life when I had to borrow a car just to make the 500+ mile drive . . . 

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Sunset over Transept Canyon, playing nightly in Cabin 42.

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The meadow between “my” cabin and the canyon at sunset. Shows daily.

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Three weeks to wander and write, including this stroll to Cape Final.

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Angel’s Window near Cape Royal at sunrise.

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The view to the South Rim and beyond . . . wandering on foot and on paper . . . 

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At the end of the three weeks, I got to share poems and photos at the historic North Rim Lodge.

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Lots to celebrate, then and now (but this photo is still then).

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From a series of attempts back in 2011 to get a photo of foot & canyon (see blog header).

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The canyon’s beauty is both enormous and intimate.

Happy (nostalgic, barefoot) Trails!

Did I or Did I Not Survive Paria Canyon in the Epic Rains of May 2019?

May 31, 2019

prehike fun at the mouth of the paria

In my innocent days, before the five-day backpack began, I squished around in what I had no doubt would be our final destination: the mocha-frothy mouth of the lovely lazy sun-warmed Paria River. Yep, that’s me posing in the photo above, all barefoot-sunshine-and-smiles during our short trek from the Paria’s confluence with the Colorado River just below historic (for so many reasons!) Lees Ferry.

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Mocha paint for $30 a gallon? Starbucks Mocha-in-a-bottle for $3 a pop?

How about mocha water that charged me at 40-200 hundred cubic feet per second (according to the USGS gaging station at Lees Ferry?) for 38 miles?

Priceless?

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The teeny-tiny yellow triangles at the bottom of the graph show 95 years’ worth of “normal” water flow. But if you haven’t been living in the bottom of a Starbucks bottle the last couple of weeks, you know that this May has flogged and flayed the U.S. with all kinds of (wet, wetter, wettest & cold) weather.

Ditto for my formerly 5-cubic-feet-per-second Paria, where I enjoyed this same five-day saunter two years ago under drastically mild conditions.

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Long story short: those days of sloshing through clear ankle-deep water in early summer heat (see photo above from my 2017 experience) did nothing to prepare me for the . . . shall we say . . . rigors of fighting cold current (from calf-high to thigh-high) through 100+ crossings (we only counted on the last day: that was 22 crossings, and felt like we hardly did any).

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Photo by Dan; the green turtle is me.

 

Oh, and did I mention the water was a completely opaque gray-brown except when it was red-brown, or that one weird day when it was green-brown–all depending on what kind of soil was getting eroded in faraway rainstorms throughout the 1,410-square-mile Paria River drainage basin (3,700 square km).

This colorful water was not only aesthetically pleasing as it reflected gray light from the drizzling sky, with all those mid-channel sand waves roiling and foaming and slurping away; the silty mix did a fantastic job of concealing anything disconcerting that might lie beneath . . . you know, stuff you didn’t want to think about like rocks the size of cereal bowls or toasters or microwaves, or sucking holes of silty sludge that were really good at making you feel welcome: “Stay here and return to your mother earth, hiker friend. Just linger a second or two and you will sink in quite nicely, to forever remain under the river (cue exuberant “Bwa-Ha-Ha” laughter).

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Photo by Dan: when a tall person gets short in the silt.

OK, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. But stories are for telling, and fun is how you Type it: 1 or 2 or 3? 

Yes, stories are for telling (and embellishing) by survivors. (Spoiler alert: I survived and am writing about it right now.)

But wait–there’s still some suspense to be had: since this blog is about BAREFOOT wandering . . . was I able to navigate muddy Paria Canyon for five days of wet-cold-rainy-boo-hoo-hoo hiking without boo-hoo-boots?

Of course. Where the heck would I get a pair of boots, anyway?!

Barefoot though . . . alas, no. Even my normally adequate Sockwa X-8s were not enough to keep me moving with the group (there were nine of us, and no time for barefoot wool-gathering).

So, reluctantly, the second morning I pulled on a pair of Smartwool PhD socks and Merrell Vapor Glove 4s and was pleasantly surprised at how flexible and un-annoying they were . . .  I could feel every rock underfoot as my toes and hiking pole tips became my underwater “eyes” for five days . . . amazing how our senses adapt to the task at hand–or foot . . . cue another (this time verging on punning hysteria) “Bwa-ha-ha” . . .

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My silty-sandy-fabulous wool socks and Merrells

So, really, there was no question of survival at all; we were just a group of nine baby boomers (well, there was one token millennial, but she managed to keep up) enjoying the geological wonders of a remote slot canyon in the extremely geologically amazing Colorado Plateau–a place so environmentally sensitive (“How sensitive is it?”) that all people-poo must be packed out in bags.

Which means that, unlike your average non-slot-canyon backpacking trip, your pack weight never. Gets. Lighter. ‘Cause even though you’ve eaten a week’s worth of food, you’ve replaced it with a week’s worth of (non-dehydrated) feces, in “wag bags” which you delicately attach to the outside of your pack each morning and hope the smell doesn’t seem as strong to the others as it does to you. (But it probably does.)

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Saying “buh-bye” to five days of poop (with a special chemical in the bag to make it OK to toss in the trash).

Have I learned anything? (Always the bottom line . . . )

  1. Click-bait headlines are silly.
  2. The people you go on adventures with make all the difference: my Paria compadres were freaking awesome.
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Photo by Dan: teamwork gets us and our packs up and over to the next camp site.

3. Erica Rackley is the Real Deal. She was our token millennial who I had never met before–but I’d read her excellent essays on Trail Sisters . . . including her latest on “mindset” and how important that factor is when an adventure does not go *exactly* as planned. So it was super gratifying to throw that word into the air whenever the Paria felt extra crazy/chilly. “MINDSET, Erica,” I would mutter accusingly in her direction, then smile brightly and once again quickstep my way across the river so as not to get stuck in a mud-sucky section, all the while fighting a knee-high torrent of silt that wanted to turn me into a Chumbawamba song.

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Erica! You rock!

4. Speaking of hiking under a silty assault all day for five days . . . a major ouch from zillions of micro-abrasions on my lower legs.

5. Type 1 or Type 2 fun? Still . . . thinking . . . about . . . this . . .

6. The Paria is an amazing place:

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Box elders in Buckskin Gulch

 

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Lots of cactus in bloom along the trail (more reasons to pay attention)

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Active beaver territory

 

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Photo by Dan: first night’s camp

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End of the journey: the Colorado/Paria confluence: mocha meets clear.

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Happy (dry, warm, Type 1 Adventure) trails!

Desert Connection at Mojave National Preserve: Guest Authors

May 14, 2019

As my most recent post chronicled, I was fortunate to spend several days wandering and writing at Mojave National Preserve last month with like-minded adventurous women.

Two of them recently sent me links to their desert-inspired words, which filled me with joy and a desire to share:

“Out of My Comfort Zone and into the Unknown” by Gloria Rose gives insight into this courageous 69-year-old’s first camping trip (but I suspect not her last!) http://www.gloriarose.com/out-of-comfort-zones/

“Wind over the Mojave” by Lori Baumann pays poetic homage to one of the desert’s most enduring (if not always endearing) features: the presence of wind: http://www.lorriebaumann.com/wind-over-the-mojave/

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Thanks for sharing your voices, Gloria and Lori . . . you inspire me!

Happy (sandy, windy) trails!

Desert wandering and writing (some barefoot)

May 9, 2019

 

I had an idea a few months ago: gather a group of women writers at Mojave National Preserve and hike and write for three days.

Keek Lynne and Gloria

A couple of weeks ago, seven of us made the trek out and beyond cell phone signal, and together we practiced writing quickly to “prompts” (complete with random words we jotted down on scraps of paper and then plucked out of our doubly-useful hats): Just. For. Fun.

It’s difficult to describe, but the combination of a bit of direction + time constraint + others in the same boat works just about every time to help folks overcome writers block and get their creative brains working.

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Pencil cholla

And, of course, the beauty of the Mojave desert was part of our inspiration!

hedgehog cactus Mojave National Preserve

Hedgehog cactus clinging to a rock

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Hedgehog cactus in the pinyon forest at Mid Hills

Creosote superbloom

A creosote superbloom was in process

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Blue yucca at dawn

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The challenge of sand slogging at Kelso Dunes

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The ground was too hot to go barefoot, so I got stuck wearing sand-catcher shoes.

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Fringe-toed lizards do just fine on the sand, shoeless.

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Fremont’s phacelia at Mid Hills

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Blue sage

pack rats begone

It didn’t take long for the pack rats to discover our engine compartments . . .

Campfire Peeps

These Peeps quickly became super-sugar-crispy.

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Mojave dawn

It was a lovely three days with seriously awesome sister-adventurer-writers; one of my favorite quotes from the weekend came from 69-year-old Gloria, who on the first camping trip of her life got to experience the excitement of a tent failing in the middle of a windy desert night: “Before this trip, the most exciting thing I’ve done recently was go to the mall and buy a new lipstick color.”

Happy Try-Something-New Trails!

 

Implicitly Barefoot; Explicitly Wandering/Writing

May 6, 2019

Green Theory and Praxis Journal

Pleased to have had a poem published recently in Green Theory and Praxis Journal:

http://greentheoryandpraxisjournal.org/gtpj-issue-12-volume-1-april-2019/

Happy (green) Trails!

What it might mean to “come to our senses”

April 24, 2019

 

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On the way to Upper Yosemite Falls

My default blogging position: frozen, stuck to my computer, immobile for the hour or so it takes to combine photos and words and then tilt them into the seething cauldron of disembodied info that old people like me with a corny sense of humor like to call the interweb.

Lately, another obsession has found me glued for-way-too-many hours-at-a-time to my laptop, trying to guess and click my way to riches, hoping to unbury a wealth of family history and stories, people and lives and time and places I never knew but can now imagine via electronic birth, marriage, draft, social security and census records.

Unfortunately for my body, all this adventure has been taking place in my head, and yesterday was the best/worst day yet: while I (finally!) found the paper-trail-proof I needed to place my grandmother’s death and burial site in Hot Springs, Arkansas (she died a day after giving birth to my father’s youngest sister), when I “came to my senses” at the end of the day–it was 7:30 pm and I had not yet had dinner, much less gone for my customary late afternoon barefoot trail run, much less moved much at all for, oh, I don’t know, six or so hours.

That there was something wrong wrong wrong with this (non-moving) picture,  I’d been suspecting for a while, as the allure of “detective work” and uncovering family stories/secrets has been sucking me into its gaping maw for a couple of weeks now, whenever I’ve been home for a few days.

Which I haven’t! My most recent “embodied” adventure? Three days/nights in Yosemite Valley with my fourth-grade grandson and his class as they attended outdoor education camp.

My own “embarrassing family secret”? It was my first trip there. (OK, I went once as a small child, but it was a “drive-through” kind of national park visit and I have no memory of the AMAZING granite & water & trees & waterfalls & leaf-bud & puddles & switchbacks & did I mention granite that make Yosemite Valley so . . . amazing. Yep. It’s a place pretty much beyond my puny ability to paint in words, so . . . here’s some photos.)

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The approach to Upper Yosemite Falls

 

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Lots to reflect upon in Yosemite Valley, including this acorn grinding place on top of a large boulder; the story of the valley’s native People is compelling and complicated and continues to this day.

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The wild winter storms snapped and/or toppled so many trees! Cleanup continues. (This is along the Upper Yosemite Falls trail.)

 

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The resort formerly known as Camp Curry is still in clean-up mode.

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The new sign for “Half Dome Village” . . . with the recent change of National Park lodging concessionaire came a change of names (another complicated/sad Yosemite story).

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Old seed and new growth after rain: gotta be a metaphor hiding here somewhere . . . 

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Manzanita–along with the oaks and all the other plants of the area–provided abundant food and medicine (and everything!)  for the native People of this place.

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Above: a sampling of microtrash collected on my hike up the Yellowstone Falls trail. More than once I found big bad macro-trash: the peelings of entire oranges thrown down the steep slopes (and thus too dangerous to retrieve). This is not OK. People need to realize orange peels are trash that needs to be carried out, not something they can toss along the trail by rationalizing, “Oh, it’s natural; it will decompose.” Nope and nope.

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Cost to attend as chaperone: $400. Being a part of the fourth graders’ learning experience (watching a new generation of earth-stewards develop): priceless!

 

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Yosemite Valley: a place to wander and learn and reflect

Today’s insight: have more empathy for folks who struggle with spending too much time living in their heads via computer/video game/smart phone alternate realities (including family history research black holes!) . . . and then . . . do what I can in my own life to continue to “come to my senses” . . . to get unplugged and experience our beautiful world via sight . . . sound . . . smell . . . sensation . . . savor . . .

Happy Sensation-filled Trails! Get moving! Share the love!