I came up with a plan a bit ago for a nice outdoor challenge and it’s almost time to try and pull it off! I’m going to try to do The Grand Canyon (South Kaibab to Bright Angel), Mt Whitney, and Half Dome all in the same week. Seems like a fun week of vacation, right?
I’ll be heading to the Ten-X Campground just outside of Grand Canyon National Park on Friday, September 2nd. My friend is celebrating his birthday up there and reserved one of the group campsites. I’m going to head out midmorning to get up there, get the tent set-up, get comfy and chill. I’m excited for the adventures, but also for some car camping, living in comfort in the outdoors! After a night of relaxing outside, I’ll get up, drive into the park and hop the Hikers Shuttle out to the South Kaibab Trailhead. My goal is to do the hike in under 8 hours, but I’ll be happy just enjoying myself on the hike. After hiking I’ll head back to the campground for some chilling out and helping my friend celebrate his birthday.
Sunday morning I’ll going to get up, enjoy some breakfast and coffee, pack up my stuff and hit the road. I’ll be heading for a stop over in Las Vegas during my drive to Mt Whitney. It’s too long of a drive in one day so it makes for a nice stop over and one last shower before a solid week in the tent.
Monday morning I’ll get up, grab some breakfast and hit the road around 8am. I’ll stop by Star Wars Canyon again in my hopes of one day seeing some jets there and hopefully get to the Whitney Portal Campground around the 2pm check-in time.
After getting my campsite set up, I’ll do a little walking around and then relax before an early dinner. I’ll crash out for as long as possible and probably get up around midnight.
Since I didn’t get a Half Done permit in the lottery I need to drive down the portal road until I get internet service and get in the 2 day out Half Dome lottery for Thursday. After that I’ll drive back up to the trailhead and get the hike started.
I hope to get started by 1 or 2 am, so I can set a nice sustainable pace for a just after sunrise summit. After a bit on the summit I’ll head down and try and rest up as much as possible. Later that afternoon I should find out if I got the Half Dome permit, fingers crossed!
Wednesday morning I want to get up early and get on the road to Yosemite. I might just grab breakfast in Lone Pine, we’ll see. It’s a four hour drive (not including any lines to get into the park) and I want to maximize my time in the valley.
If I get a permit I’ll pick it up and then cruise around the village and check out some of the sights. I’ll probably start the hike about 4am, I want to get up and down the cables before any crowds or afternoon weather.
If I don’t get a permit I think I’m probably going to do the Clouds Rest Hike, it’s supposed to be pretty awesome, just no cables. Overall I’m stoked to be able to hike in Yosemite Valley and I’m going to try to have as much fun as possible!
So that’s the plan , I think it’ll be fun no matter what, definitely expect some tough hiking. Also very looking forward to some car camping in amazing places!
After 3 years of trying and the pandemic interrupting my efforts I finally got a Mt Whitney permit! I ended up getting an overnight permit the day they released the unclaimed lottery slots, and planned for 3 nights in the Whitney Zone. That way if I dealt with weather or acclimation issues I would have some extra time.
I headed out on Sunday, July 19th, and made my way to Las Vegas to break-up the drive. Stopped to check out Hoover Dam for a bit. Depressing to see how low the water level is, but it’s always an impressive structure to see!
I stayed at the El Cortez Hotel just off Fremont Street. I was just looking for a cheap room and it did the job! Strolled around the Fremont Street Experience to do some Vegas people watching, always entertaining!
I wanted to have a nice meal before living out of my backpack for the rest of the week, and luckily wandered in to Carson’s Kitchen just a block away from my hotel. It was exactly what I wanted- Deviled Eggs with Pancetta and Caviar.
Cocoa-Espresso NY Strip, and Glazed Donut Bread Pudding (not pictured because I couldn’t wait to eat it), all amazing!
The next morning I woke up about 5am, grabbed some breakfast and hit the road! My plan was to drive through Death Valley National Park and hit up Badwater, the lowest point in North America, before heading to Mt Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48!
While it is a very different National Park, Death Valley is very beautiful in it’s own way and super cool to drive through.
When I got to Lone Pine I headed down the Whitney Portal Road, but made a stop in the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area. There’s a cool, short loop hike that takes you past some natural rock arches, like Mobius Arch below. Usually you can see Mt Whitney through the arch, but the incoming weather scuttled that view! The area has been used to film many movies from The Lone Ranger (1938) to Iron Man (2008) and many more!
After that it was time to make the drive up to the Portal and move in to my campsite for the night.
When I first booked a campsite no spots were open at the Whitney Portal Campground, so I had booked a spot at the Lone Pine Campground at the bottom of the road. I randomly checked a few weeks out and a spot had opened at the Portal campground and I snagged it! This ended up being a great development. The Whitney Portal campground is at 8000 ft and in the beautiful trees, so much better than down in the hot desert!
After getting the tent up I went for a quick hike up the first part of the Mt Whitney trail, just to get the legs moving and to help get used to the altitude. It was nice to hike in such beautiful weather, a big change from Arizona. Spent the evening chillin’ in the campsite enjoying being outdoors!
My plan was to hit the trail before 9am. I got up, made myself some breakfast, did a final organizing of the backpack and drove up to the trailhead. Both the hiker lot and overflow parking were full so I had to park on the side of the road, fortunately there’s a large shoulder and it was easy to find a decent spot.
Weighed my pack at the trailhead scale, 42 lbs, a little on the heavy side but I wanted to have enough food and warm clothes to comfortably stay up high for 4 days if necessary. After that I shouldered the pack and headed down the trail.
The trail starts uphill pretty quickly, makes sense as you’ve got a lot of elevation to gain! After about a mile you enter the John Muir Wilderness, this part of the hike is pretty relaxing overall, just cruising through the forest with some amazing views. The first real milestone is Lone Pine Lake, a cool mountain lake on a rocky shelf about 3 miles in. The trail seems to flatten out a little bit as you head towards Outpost Camp, a popular lower camp inside the Whitney Zone. As you pass Outpost the trail climbs steeply towards Mirror Lake, another amazing lake that’s worth a quick stop!
A little ways after you pass Mirror Lake you head above tree line. Most of the rest of the hike is on rocks, and you really start to feel like you’re high in the mountains. The section from Trailside Meadow to Trail Camp felt like the most difficult of the entire hike to me. Maybe I knew I was getting close and was ready to take off the full pack, but I was very glad to have that section behind me.
Once you reach Consultation Lake it’s just a short bit up to Trail Camp. I thought about hanging out at the lake, but wanted to go ahead and get a campsite at Trail Camp before the good spots were taken.
I’m happy I was able to make the hike in one push without taking off the pack, I really wanted to be fit for this hike. Arrived at Trail Camp about 12:30ish, found a great little spot, nice and flat and a little sandy for some cushion. Got all set up, got the solar panel going to start charging stuff, had a snack and start hanging out, for about 8 hours…
This is the time it would have been nice to have somebody else along, I met and talked to a few of my tent neighbors and looked around at the beautiful views, but it was a long evening just hanging around.
I had planned to start hiking by 3am, but it was a cold night at 12,000 ft for this Arizonian. When my alarm went off about 2:30 I decided to be warm for a bit longer and not hike quite as much in the dark, very glad I made this decision!
Cooked up a little oatmeal with peanut butter, threw a few things in my backpack, turned on the headlamp and headed for the summit, a hike I had been waiting a long time to start!
Trail Camp sits right at the bottom of the 99 Switchbacks so you’re into the business quickly. Overall the switchbacks aren’t steep, there’s just a lot of them and they seem to go on for a long time. Pretty much just put my head down and cranked them out. It was great to get to Trail Crest, it’s an amazing view and a major milestone for the hike. It was cold and windy there so I just kept moving after taking a few pics.
There’s a sign that says it’s 1.9 miles to the summit, as many have said it’s the longest 2 miles I’ve ever hiked. It took me 1 hour 49 minutes to cover that distance, and I was feeling great and moving at a decent pace the whole time. There are some really cool sections around the JMT junction and a little past that, but after a while you’re just walking through a huge field of rocks, As you continue to head up it seems like you’ll never get there, and then you come over a small ridge of rock and the summit hut is right in front of you! A little navigating through the big rocks and you’re on the summit!
I spent about 30 minutes on the summit, got the required summit sign pic. I had cell service, so I was able to call my wife, which was nice! After a bit of taking pics, checking out the hut, it was time to head down. The hike down is pretty easy, just a lot of down.
As I descended I started to run into a lot of the day hikers on their way up. Some people looked great, but there were definitely people who looked like they were struggling pretty badly with a long way to go just to get to the summit, and some who just had no business being there. I hope that they all made wise decisions that day, because as we all know the top is only half way.
I had my GoPro on for the cool section along the JMT junction, but somehow lost all the footage due to operator error!!!
I made it back to Trail Camp about 12:30. Originally I had planned on staying at there again that night, but the prospects of another long afternoon/evening of just hanging out and another cold nights sleep didn’t seem that great. So I packed up camp and hiked on out! The hike out is really cool as well, you kind of get a different perspective than going up. The last mile or so I was ready to be done, a little over 16 miles for the day made the Whitney Portal a welcome sight. Grabbed a burger in Lone Pine, and found a dispersed campsite out in the Alabama Hills. Slept good!
The next day I packed up my campsite and headed back through Death Valley on my way to Zion National Park to continue the adventures!!
It’s been a weird year, right? I think everyone’s plans have been thrown askew this year, and my normal yearly backpacking trip was no different. This year I was ready to do a solo backpacking trip but events conspired against me and it just wasn’t going to work. I still felt like I need some time outdoors in the woods, so I decided to take off on a little car camping trip around Northern Az and just find a few cool things to do!
I headed out on Monday, up towards Flagstaff. I left Phoenix around 9am and made pretty good time out towards Mormon Lake about 20 miles Southish of Flagstaff. I was able to get a really nice campsite at the Dairy Spring Campground, it always helps to show up early afternoon on a Monday! I planned on being there a few days so I set up my big tent to have a nice basecamp, it was great to have all that room and be able to stand up inside the tent but it’s a lot more work to put up!
After I got my camp set up I headed out for a quick mountain bike ride, and man did the altitude kick my ass. The hills took it out of me and I just couldn’t get into a good rhythm. Really wasn’t enjoying myself, except for the excellent temps, so I headed back to camp. Still glad I went on this ride, I feel like it jump started my acclimation.
After getting back to camp I just chilled out the rest of the evening and enjoyed being outdoors. I was able to have a fire, and relax next to it enjoying a few beers. Dinner was a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff, one of my favorites and something nice and warm in the stomach because it got cold that night!
The next morning, after not the best night of sleep I’ve had in a tent, I woke up and lazed around camp for a bit while fixing breakfast. The goal for the day was to hike Mt Humphreys, the tallest peak in Az, and I want to get going at decent time. I grabbed my gear and headed towards the mountain!
The trailhead is at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Area base. There were a decent amount of cars in the parking lot, lots of people getting in one of a few cool hikes around there. You see some people for the first mile or so, and after that it’s a lot of walking alone in the woods, which was pretty peaceful.
My favorite part begins once you go above treeline and get to the saddle between the peaks. From there you really feel like you’re up in the mountains as you climb the ridge towards the summit. If you do this hike always remember that the mountain tries to fool you with a few false summits. After a bit of hanging out and taking some pics on top it’s time to head down. Once your back below treeline the hike starts to kind of wear on and on and I’m usually ready to just be back to the truck! Overall it’s a cool hike that puts you at the highest point in AZ with some great views.
After my hike I headed back out to the campsite for another evening of relaxing by my fire and a few beers. This night it felt really cold, I’m willing to admit that I’ve become a wimp to the cold after 20 years in Phoenix, but it was a cold night all around, even wrapped up in the sleeping bag.
The next morning I decided to move on to places more warm. I’d never seen Horseshoe Bend and wanted to look into a little paddling on the Colorado River.
It was about a 2.5 hour drive over to Horseshoe Bend, and while it’s kind of touristy and more of a stroll over to the edge of the canyon, it is a really cool and beautiful thing to see. I took some pics and looked around, at one point I could see kayakers on the river below, that really cemented my desire to see the Bend from the river as well! So, after taking in the sights I got back in the truck and headed over to Lee’s Ferry about an hour away.
Lee’s Ferry is in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and very near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, all places with some really cool stuff! It is also the spot where rafting trips start down the Colorado, if you pass Lee’s Ferry you’re committed at least a 2 week river trip and need a hard to get permit.
Pretty nice campground there, no problem getting a spot around 3pm, but it did fill up as the evening went on. Great views of the surrounding cliffs as the sun set. The coolest campsites seemed to be at the far low end, where they looked over the Colorado River.
After getting set up I reserved my spot to get hauled up the river and rented a kayak from Kayak the Colorado for the next day. Got to hang out on the small beach area next to the river for a while, it was an overall beautiful night outdoors!
My kayak reservation the next day wasn’t until 12:30, so I took my time at camp in the morning, reorganized things in the truck and slowly packed up. Still having time to kill, I took a little drive around the general vicinity, lots of really cool cliffs and rock formations, and finally headed towards the put in area.
The paddle down the river was super cool, it’s completely flat water, you can pretty much just float if you’d like. I started off about 10 miles up river from Lee’s Ferry, there’s some really cool ancient petroglyphs to see (unfortunately some jerk named Trent felt the need to add his name).
I got to see Horseshoe Bend from the top and the river and the whole paddle was awesome, with the canyon walls soaring right out of the water to hundreds of feet above you! Took one off river hike up a canyon, it had some really cool rock formations but the walking in the deep soft sand was not my favorite.
It took me about 3.5 hours to do the paddle, I’d love to go all the way to the dam and paddle back, there are a few spots that are designated campsites, it would be awesome to spend a night on the river!
After returning my kayak it was time to head home to Phoenix, it was a great time overall and I got to see somethings I never had, it wasn’t the trip I thought I’d have this summer, but this year you take what you can get!
That’s it, that’s the whole post!
This week’s photo is a video. The American flag at the Indian Garden Ranger Station, with a bit of wind. Grand Canyon, AZ