Photo of the Week 4/04/22

The Narrows, Zion National Park

Mt Whitney Adventure

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!

Hoover Dam from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Overlook

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!

Badwater Basin – Lowest Point in North America

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!

Mobius Arch

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!

Whitney Portal Campground

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.

Mt Whitney Trailhead Scale

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!

Entering the John Muir Wilderness

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.

Looking down the trail towards Trailside Meadow. I found this to be part of the most challenging section.
Consultation Lake

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.

Trail Camp

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!

Looking East from the 99 Switchbacks

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.

Trail Crest

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!

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!!!

Looking into Sierra National Park

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!!

Death Valley on the way to Zion!

Photo of the Week 8/02/2021

Zion looking South from Angel’s Landing

Photo of the Week 11/2/20

Black Bridge, South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

Our National Parks and Recreation Areas are a Treasure!

That’s it, that’s the whole post!

Photo of the Week 9/14/20

Old Faithful – Yellowstone National Park – 2004

Grand Canyon Day Hike

The past 2 summers I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon, it’s been a nice, relaxing vacation kind of trip. We’ve hiked down to the Bright Angel Campground, spent 2 nights at the bottom, hiked up to Indian Garden and spent a night there and then hiked out. A nice easy way to go, but I have wanted to just bust it out in a day for a while, just to do it!

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions the restaurant I work at was closed for almost 2 months. There was work to do, to come out better than before and be ready to open with new cleanliness procedures and such, but there was also a lot of free time. Outdoor exercise was allowed under Arizona’s stay at home order and I took advantage of that. Hiking, biking, and running became my major activities, I had a great time, saw some cool things and came out of it pretty fit. This seemed like a perfect time to try a Grand Canyon in a day hike.

I began not so patiently waiting for Grand Canyon National Park to re-open, obsessively checking their website and twitter account. Once they opened, I was hoping the shuttles would be running, but that hadn’t happened yet and it was getting too far into the summer to wait much longer. My original plan was to go down the South Kaibab trail and up Bright Angel. You can’t park at the S Kaibab trailhead, and I really didn’t want to walk it. I decided I would see if I could get a Lyft in the morning out to the trail-head or just hike Bright Angel both ways.

I headed out Friday morning around 10am, and made good time up to Flagstaff. After navigating the afternoon traffic, which can be a task, I got a sandwich at the Crystal Creek Sandwich Co, a great sandwich place in Flag! Back on the road, I made it to the Ten-X Campground right outside the park a little after 2 pm.

Ten-X is a nice, basic national forest campground that has been re-modeled recently, I was able to reserve a great spot on the outer loop and had no one within 100 yards of me, not too bad for an established campground! After I got set-up I headed into the park for a bit.

While I’m not surprised, I’ve never seen Grand Canyon so deserted. I was able to park right next to El Tovar and there were very few people walking around. I walked around the rim a bit and got some pics. Unfortunately there’s a large fire burning on the North Rim, in the pic below those aren’t clouds you see right next to the canyon rim!

After some cruising around I chilled on the El Tovar patio, took in the scene and had a couple beers. After that it was back to the campsite to relax for a while.

Back at the campground I just relaxed in the nice temperatures and enjoyed being out of the city, it’s so relaxing just being in the outdoors! Unfortunately there is a fire ban in most of Arizona, so no campfire for me. Since I was by myself I passed the time watching a movie on my phone until it was time to make dinner and then crash out around 10pm.

It was a nice night to sleep outdoors, cool enough that I needed to be in my sleeping bag, a nice change for someone who lives in Phoenix! I got up about 4am and started boiling some water for coffee and oatmeal. While that was going I was able to get my camp broken down and everything stowed in the truck. After a nice warm breakfast and some coffee to sip on I headed towards the park.

Not surprisingly there was no traffic and no one else at the entrance station, I made it to the Backcountry Information Center pretty quickly. While I had pretty much accepted that I was going to take Bright Angel both ways, I tried one thing to get out to the South Kaibab Trail-head, Lyft. There were no Lyft drivers around at 5:30, also not a surprise…

For food and hydration I had Nuun Tablets in a water bottle, Honey Stinger Chews, Cliff Bars, and my favorite – those little pretzel things with peanut butter in them, and my 3 liter water bladder.

It’s a quick walk over to the BA Trailhead from BIC, I did have to skirt around an elk family enjoying some shrubberies for breakfast. After that it was time to head out into the canyon.

It was a nice morning for hiking, cruised along at nice pace and tried not to slow down to take too may pictures. It’s not easy in this amazing place. It was great to hike along, let your thoughts wander and just be. Before I knew it I was at Indian Garden, filled up on water and off I went again. The temps were still pretty good at this point, the entire hike down was comfortable and easy.

Pretty soon I was past the River Resthouse and on the River Trail to the Silver Bridge. The trek through the sand dunes wasn’t too bad, and I made it to Bright Angel Campground pretty quickly. The campground was pretty much deserted except for a few day hikers, I found a campsite by the creek to chill for a bit. Stripped down to just the shorts and spent about 5 minutes soaking in BA Creek. Overall I wasn’t super warm, but wanted to cool myself down for the rest of the day, which I knew would be hot.

After cooling off and eating a quick lunch, it was time to hike uphill. At this point I was staring to figure out a goal time to aim for and 8 hours sounded doable. This time the sand dunes felt much warmer, but the Pipe Creek section comes up quickly and provides some nice shade. You could easily soak yourself with water here to cool down if you were already feeling hot. I felt super strong during this portion, and made it to Indian Garden in one solid push. Also, I was able to get through the switchbacks pictured below with some shade!

After Indian Garden the real work begins. I tried to just put it in a low gear and keep on going up. The last 3 1/2 miles or so are the hardest part as you climb out of the canyon, you can see in the pic below the serious elevation gain tin the last few miles! I started to feel a little squirrelly the last mile or so, but I just kept going because finishing is the best way to feel better!

I topped out just under my 8 hour goal, a little tired, a bit thirsty and super glad I did this hike. I still need to nail down what caused my issues the last mile, some kind of hydration/nutrition things was lacking. I drank ample water, had 7 Nuun tablets, both things of Honey Stingers, 4 cliff bars and a Ziploc bag of pretzel things.

I love the Grand Canyon, and feel so lucky to be able to access it so easily, 13 hours after starting my hike I was home in Phoenix!

Photo of the Week 5/25/20

This week’s photo is a video. The American flag at the Indian Garden Ranger Station, with a bit of wind. Grand Canyon, AZ

It Sure Is a Grand Canyon

After an awesome time on last year’s trip I wanted to experience it again with the knowledge gained during that trip. I put in for a permit for the second weekend in September, hoping it might be a little cooler, but not really caring. It ended up being just as hot. Fortunately it was decently cloudy again for our hike down.

I work in the restaurant business in Phoenix, so I need to take my vacations in the summer, hence the warm weather Grand Canyon trips.

Just like last year we would hike down South Kaibab Trail on a Thursday, stay 2 nights at Bright Angel Campground, hike to Indian Garden via the Bright Angel Trail, camp there and then trek out Sunday morning. Unlike last year we got a nice early start Thursday morning, leaving Phoenix by 6am. We picked up our 3rd in Flagstaff and got to Grand Canyon by 10:30 am.

It was great knowing exactly where to park, which buses to hop on, and what to expect. We had no problem getting to the trailhead, the 2 bus drivers were super friendly and pretty humorous! Once we made it out to the South Kaibab trailhead we took a few pics, shouldered the packs and headed out for our adventure!

View from the South Kaibab Trailhead
Looking up the trail from Ohh Ahh Point

Like always the first few miles of the trail are pretty crowded with day hikers and people just going to the first view points. Once you get past Cedar Ridge you see very few people on the trail and can really appreciate the serenity!

South Kaibab is an impressive trail, following a ridge line directly down into the canyon. Because of this the views are amazing, but it can most definitely get hot, and there is no water and very limited shade.

View from the Tip-off

When you work your way all the way down the switchbacks, you come to a dark tunnel blasted into the cliff. It’s super cool, as you walk out of the tunnel, you walk right onto the black bridge and over the Colorado River!

Walking through the tunnel on to the black bridge – South Kaibab Trail
Our campsite at Bright Angel

We got to Bright Angel Campground about 3pm, and scored a great campsite! As backcountry campsites go, BA is pretty ritzy! There are picnic tables at every site, flush toilets, and (if the pipeline doesn’t break) water! Not to mention the Phantom Ranch canteen, about a 5-10 minute stroll away, where they have cold beer! While the beers are $7 or $8 a can, they sure do taste good, not something you normally get to enjoy while backpacking. We determined that the best deal out of everything they sell there was the 75 cent packages of Oreos!

One campground improvement was the new food storage boxes. In the past each site had 2 big, old metal ammo boxes for food storage. You were supposed to flip them upside down when you left camp, so you were always treated to that banging around at 4:30 in the morning as people get ready to head out. The new boxes close up tight and hold far more than the old ones.

Anti-squirrel boxes

Friday, after a relaxing morning in camp, we headed out for a hike down the North Kaibab trail. My friend’s knee was a little sore from the hike in, so we only went around 3 miles out. We were hoping to make it to Ribbon Falls, but that was not happening.

I really want to explore The North Kaibab trail. Next year I’ll want to switch things up a bit, so I think a Rim to Rim is in order!

The work that has gone into making and maintaining these trails is impressive. The National Parks Service really does a great job, there seem to be miles and miles of the stone retaining walls seen in the picture below. I can only imagine what it took to build all of them!

North Kaibab Trail

After getting back to camp we felt like hiking around a little more, so we explored the River Trail. We crossed the Black Bridge and up a few of South Kaibab’s switchbacks, until we got to the River Trail junction, after that it’s a super cool rolling trail along the cliffs right above the river, and it leads right to the Silver Bridge. It was only about a mile and a half but it is totally worth it!

Bright Angel from the River Trail
The Black Bridge from Boat Beach

After hiking, it was time to cool off in the Colorado River, and it was fantastic! The water was pretty cold and super refreshing. We hung out on the beach and in the river for a good portion of the afternoon, a few sips of the Old Forester bourbon, chilled in BA Creek while we hiked, made it all that much better!

While we were at the river we saw a few of the rafting trips come through in their motorized rafts. We got to see the loading up and safety briefing from the Wilderness River Adventures group, who seemed like they’d be fun to run the river with!

Sunset from Boat Beach

After cooking up some food and one last visit to enjoy a few beers at Phantom Ranch, we sacked out to be ready for the hike to Indian Garden the next morning. It was a little warm for sleeping, taking the rain fly off the tent was key, and the stars were amazing to look up at!

We got up around 6ish the next morning, cooked up a little breakfast and packed up. We were kind of aiming to start hiking around 7, and ended up heading out about 7:40.

The hike is so cool, cross the silver bridge and look right down the Colorado River, hike along the River Trail, and head up the canyon. Most of our hike was in the shade, and we were able to get through a decent part of the corkscrew while it was still pretty nice out.

Most Amazing Thing

Last year while hiking to Indian Garden we ran into an old neighbor of mine, who I hadn’t seen since they moved about 4 years ago. This year in about the same place who did we run into? You guessed it, the neighbor!

We cruised into Indian Garden and were able to grab what has become my favorite campsite there. The real bummer was seeing the the huge tree that shaded the main area was not standing anymore. Does anyone know what happened?

Looking down at part of the Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail

After setting up camp and hanging out for a bit, we headed out for the 1.5 mile hike to Plateau Point. If you’re at Indian Garden and feel like you’re up for it, this quick hike is a must. The view of the river, canyon and major buttes is awesome. It’s a flat hike, there’s a water spigot as the trail is right along the cross canyon pipeline, there’s even a California Condor who has a nest right below.

Plateau Point

After the Plateau Point hike there was some serious chilling out until dinner, a small stroll above the campground, a little conversation with our neighbor who was doing R2R, and watching the highway that is Bright Angel Trail. I’m pretty sure there are people moving up and down that trail at all hours of the day, it’s pretty cool to see all the different people that come by.

We hung out on a bench at the far end of the campground after it was quiet time, checking out the stars and such and then crashed out. It was definitely cooler at Indian Garden, but once again it was windy there!

Up a little before 6, brew some coffee, have some food and pack up. We did a little talking with our cool campsite neighbor and headed out for my favorite part of the hike.

It’s 4.5 miles from Indian Garden to the South Rim. Looking up at the rim from Indian Garden you can’t believe a trail goes up that way! The trail heads up a small valley and then pretty soon you’re into the switchbacks, which pretty much go on for the rest of the hike.

There are 2 rest houses along the trail, at 3 miles and 1 1/2 miles. They are nice little stops with a small rock house, water and bathrooms, they are also great milestones along the way besides the opportunity to relax.

View from 1 1/2 MIle Resthouse – Bright Angel Trail

As you get closer to the rim you start to see more and more people, by the time you into the last mile it can be a constant stream. It is a solid climb the whole way, but you can just put it in low gear and cruise your way up! We topped out about 9:45 am and hopped the bus back to the Backcountry Information Center parking lot.

Almost to the top
Right after topping out

Grand Canyon is an amazing place, if you’ve never hiked it, you should at least once. Around every turn is another unbelievable vista, and the trails, bathrooms and campgrounds are top notch, especially for backcountry travel!

Ready to Roll!

Packed and ready for another adventure! 36 pounds fully loaded, with water. Grand Canyon here we come! Stoked to head into the canyon tomorrow!!