Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Few Days in the Desert

After leaving the booming metropolis of Kingman, AZ, we headed southwest for Joshua Tree. On the way we stopped at a little gas station on historic Route 66 and the attendant told us what we had been looking at for an hour or so. The black hill off in the distance was Amboy Crater -- formerly a volcano that had blown its top. He informed us you could hike to the top and then inside the crater. So, a mile down the road we parked the car and made off on this short hike. The volcanic rock that littered the trail was very hard to step on, but made the desert floor much more interesting. It was fun hiking around inside and then enjoying different views from the rim of this 250 foot hill.

We arrived in Joshua Tree about an hour and a half later. There we picked up some supplies and headed into the park to stake out a campsite for the night. We weren’t able to get into the first couple of sites that have climbing routes actually in the sites so we were forced down the road to the Jumbo Rocks area. We found a sunny, south-facing site and set up camp. Our neighbors were very nice and we shared a fire with a handyman from Orange County named John.

Monday night we froze as the desert temperatures dropped to below freezing and the wind ripped through the tent. My feet never warmed up and Dan was in his sleeping bag with jeans and a sweater on (usually he sweats in the bag). However, we survived and staked the fly down the next morning.

On Tuesday we did a climb on the side of the Jumbo Rocks corridor. The rappel was off a boulder on top and we couldn’t pull the rope. Eventually Dan jumared back up and was able to pull it. Afterward we scrambled on rock for a long while and then took a short hike before dinner.

Tuesday night was cooler (but our tent was much warmer) and we both slept a lot better, although neither of us was excited about camping out again. So we packed up the site after a pre-breakfast hike, and hit the road. On the way out of the park we hiked Mount Ryan (5,000-something feet) and checked out rock around the Real Hidden Valley. Unfortunately, the climbs we wanted to do were all in the shade where it was considerably colder. We did leave the park and tried to find lodging in town. Being that it was New Year’s Eve we had no luck and decided to head north towards Las Vegas.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day 4

By 5:00am, we were both up. We weren't moving, we weren't looking forward to the task of getting dressed in the freezing cold. The sleeping bags were warm and outside was not. At 6:00am we both bragged to one another how we were able to change out some clothes while still in the sleeping bag. This skill takes much practice! After an hour and half breaking down camp in the dark (and with only one headlamp which Dan got to keep in the tent) we were on our way.

The first part of the hike was the River Trail, aptly named as it followed the cliffs along the Colorado. It was very moderate and a good way to start the day. We could see the sun hitting the upper layers of rock like a spot light thousands of feet above.

After a quick stop for bagels, we followed the trail up along another creek. The riparian landscapes were very pretty. Around 10am we started seeing some people on their way down. They couldn't believe how much warmer it was getting, as they started their days at zero degrees. We didn't notice how much colder it was getting until we got halfway up the trail to the Indian Garden Campground. At this point we were hoping for a sunny spot for lunch, but the ranger said we wouldn't see sun again until we got to the rim. He was right. The shady high canyon walls were cold and we kept stopping to put more layers on and minutes later stopping to take them off because it got steep and we were working hard.

The last 4 miles of the trail (9.7 overall) were very steep and full of icy switchbacks. Our microspikes were awesome and we didn't even slip. 6 hours and 40 minutes after we set off on our adventure we topped out at the South Rim. It was very sunny and relatively warm. After a good stretch and some munchies, we hit the road. We made it as far as Kingman, AZ (right on the CA/NV/AZ border) and called it a night after long showers and steak dinners.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day 3

Saturday was our "play day" in the canyon. Too stupid to take a day to rest, we decided to hike up to Ribbon Falls. The trail was described as "not steep, but tedious" or something like that. 12 or 13 mile round trip.

We saw the most amazing waterfall. The water comes shooting off a cliff and splashes down on a giant moss-covered rock. You can hike up around behind the falls and also to another elevated viewpoint called The Alcove.

We got back to camp exhausted but determined to stay up late enough to hang out at the Phantom Ranch canteen for a little while (it didn't open until 8 PM). We had a good time talking with a few people but headed back to camp a bit after 9. It was a very starry night -- no clouds, a new moon, and no light pollution.

Our plan for the morning was to be packed up and on the trail by sunrise, since we didn't know how long to expect the trip out to take. There's only 10 hours of daylight this time of year and we thought there was a chance we'd need all of it.

P.S. That "giant rock" is actually a stalagmite!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day 2

We got up early, geared up, made a final go/no-go decision, and hopped on the 8AM bus. The ranger suggested we take the Kaibab trail down. There is no parking by that trailhead but there are shuttles at 8AM and 9AM.

We were the only hikers on the bus.

The previous day's weather had caused huge snow drifts. A hundred feet down trail we found two men shoveling the path -- odd since few tourists hike this trail. In many places we would sink into the snow knee-deep and in a few spots we were post-holing up to our hips. We had crampons but no snowshoes, so it was slow hard work. As we descended further into the canyon and lost elevation there was less snow and we picked up pace.

The sky was partly cloudy and the views were amazing. As the day went on the clouds cleared almost entirely. Click a pic to see the whole album.

It took us 5.5 hours to hike the 7 mile trail -- all downhill for a 4800' drop. Even if I wasn't carrying a 45 lbs pack I would have considered it the hardest hike I've ever done. It was a relief to find a campsite and get the packs off our shoulders. We set up camp, made dinner, and were so exhausted we went to sleep at 7:30 PM. Sunrise wasn't until 7:30 AM.

Despite the difficulty of the hike, it was entirely worth it for the views and the solitude.

There is an easier way to see the bottom of the canyon than hiking and camping. You can ride a mule down, stay in a room at the Phantom Ranch (located less than a mile from our campground), and ride back up a day or more later. I think it's a great idea if you're not up for the hike.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day 1

"Should we bring the snowshoes?"

I had to think for a minute since we were planning a climbing trip to Joshua Tree National Park in the California desert.

"Oh. You mean for the Grand Canyon. Nah, how much can it snow in Arizona?"

The original plan was a week in JTree. Then Laurel started talking about visiting the Grand Canyon on the way there or back. As winter break neared we checked the forecast again and saw that JTree would be cold or rainy around Christmas, so I suggested we spend a little more time at the Grand Canyon.

Two days before Christmas I stayed up late reading about the area, the trails, the campgrounds, and the permit process for back-country camping. The next morning (Christmas eve) we packed the car and left. Snowshoes were left behind.

Typically campsites are reserved months in advance but a few spots are held for last-minute next-day walk-ins. That was our plan -- show up at the park Christmas afternoon and hope for a reservation on the 26th. The NPS website said the Bright Angel Campground was already 100% full for the 27th and 29th.

We got lucky. The ranger said we could camp the 26th and 27th. He also warned us of the latest weather forecast: snow Christmas night on the rim, low of 15 F at the bottom of the canyon. Our sleeping bags are "20 degree" bags and we have a 3-season tent. Last time we used them it got below freezing and we survived (with margin) so we thought we could cope.

That night we stayed in a little cabin room at the Bright Angel Lodge and had a good Christmas dinner. It was cold, windy, and sleeting but we walked along the rim trail and checked out one of the ranger programs too before heading to bed.

As you can see in the picture, visibility sucked. We hoped it would be better the next few days.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Skiing the 14ers

Had a good time fixing up kids' bikes today at the Velodrome, plan to do some more tomorrow.

Tonight Laurel and I went to Neptune for a slideshow on skiing the 14ers. I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew Lou Dawson wrote a book on Colorado's 14ers and has done both summer and winter ascents of all of them. This show was by Chris Davenport and I wasn't sure what the angle would be.

The show was gripping! Even though I was up early today and the show ran late, I knew I wouldn't be able to fall right asleep tonight after a show like that! His goal was to ski from the summit of every 14,000+ foot mountain in Colorado -- all 54 of them -- in a year. That's insane. Even skiing the easiest one of these mountains is insane. There was one month period where he bagged 22 descents. That's about how many working days there are in a month, and some of these days started at 3am and were 16 hours long.

These pictures show the route he and his partners pioneered on Capitol Peak (click pic for his website). See in the first picture how that red line goes down from the summit then cuts sharp to the left and around the arete? You have to go that way to avoid the 500' sheer cliffs of doom. He described it as a "no-fall zone". The second pic shows a scary perspective of those cliffs from around the corner.

I'd like to do some back-country skiing someday, but geez, not this.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Community Cycles

For the past few months I have been volunteering at Community Cycles. Mostly doing mechanic work and helping people out but a few days I got to help out with the kids programs. Boulder's "Out there guy" Ryan Van Duzer put up video from a day we took the kids to a dirt park for some off-road mountain biking. Then another day we were back in the shop fixing up bikes -- check out the guy at 1:45.

The next few days CC volunteers will be wrenching on around 300 kids bikes to get them ready for the holiday give-away this weekend. I can't imagine how that many bikes are going to get fixed up in time, but hopefully Thursday or Friday night I'll find out (and help out!).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend with Rob and Lisa

Rob and Lisa visited this weekend. It was a lot of fun to see them. Friday afternoon we explored Pearl St. That night we took them to the Gold Hill Inn -- great food and a great table by the fireplace. Saturday we skied the slopes of Eldora. Sunday was very very very cold so we only spent a little time outside. There was fresh snow so we had to try a little sledding at Chautauqua. Football, pizza and beer in the evening.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Knot Tying School

Monday night we braved the snowy roads to drive down to Golden for the first day of a CMC course in knot tying. The class was very good -- we learned a few things and met a lot of knowledgeable people. Towards the end of the class Laurel and I got to chat with local legend Gerry Roach for a bit. Looking forward to the second half next Monday.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Arestua Hut!

Last time we tried snowshoeing on the Jenny Creek Trail, we didn't get on the right trail, there wasn't enough snow, and we couldn't find the CMC hut at the top of Guinn Mountain.

Sunday was redemptive! Lots of snow (although it was melting at temps in the 50s). Better signage directing us to the trail. And... at the end of it was the Arestua hut.

Looking forward to staying an overnight sometime soon. Check out the pics.