Rocky Mountains and Gallbladder Pains

Winter has hit Nebraska; a major winter storm blew through Saturday night. Today I spent most of the day washing laundry, catching up on emails, and finally sitting down to work on my blog. After a week of fun in the sun and a week of Thanksgiving joy, I’m ready to get back to my regular work week. Other than work I have nothing else popping up in the foreseeable future, which I’m excited about honestly.

However, I’m so tired- I think it has to do with the weather. I think nature is telling me to hibernate until winter is over. Shaking off those pessimistic thoughts, I do have some tentative winter plans in mind though; binge-watching all my favorite shows and starting a workout regimen. I need to lose about fifteen pounds if I want to be comfortable backpacking next spring. I’m going to hit Badlands as soon as the weather clears up and the snow melts. Although, I do have it on good authority I will be getting snow pants this Christmas- which means there might be a winter hike in the future…

Anyways, my plan for this post was to catch you all up on what happened during August and September.

Let me backtrack a little before this- I had been having troubles with my stomach off and on for the last two years. I changed my diet, changed it again, and swore off greasy foods. It would get better for a while but it always came back. In June it came back, worse than ever. I went into my regular doctor twice and got referred to a gastroenterologist in July. It was getting to the point I could barely eat, it was bad. I was also just drinking water at that point.

At the end of July, I went to talk to my gastroenterologist after the initial visit and testing- it was during this appointment that my previous two years of diet changes and outright stubbornness failed to change the inevitable. I had to have surgery with general anesthesia.  The sooner the better, according to my doctor.

This threw a wrench into my plans, my bachelorette party was coming up right around the same time he was thinking I should have the surgery.

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I didn’t want to give this up!

A weekend of friendship and hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park- I had been looking forward to it since early spring. Now, it looked like it would be canceled for  the benefit of my health.

I got lucky (or unlucky depending on how you want to view it). The doctor couldn’t get me in until the Tuesday after the weekend getaway. I was still going to the Rockies. I just wouldn’t be able to eat anything tasty or imbibe any spirits- but it would still a blast.

Originally, we had planned on camping- but since I wasn’t sure if everyone would get the time off until about a month before the weekend, I lost out on getting a reserved campsite, much to the happiness of my friends and sister. I got us a lovely cabin in Estes Park. Seriously, the Stone Brook Resort is where it’s at!

After a busy week at work, finding out about the surgery, and getting tired of wedding planning I was so ready for the weekend! The misfortune struck- my sister wouldn’t be able to make it. We still had fun without her (we still love you PJ).

I drove to Denver to pick up my besties, Grace and Liz, and we headed to Estes Park. We got in late. We explored the cabin- highly amused at the Jacuzzi tub in the living room. We turned in around 2, only to get up and head out around 10ish.

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Seriously, a Jacuzzi tub in the living room next to the window- the river in the background is nice.

After a delightful breakfast at the Mountain Home Café, we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a ten minute drive. It was beautiful.

*Parkie advice* If you go to any NPS (or other federal lands) site that charges an entrance fee, more than three or four times a year, invest in the annual pass. It’s $80 bucks up front but if you go to a park that charges a $20 entrance fee it will pay for itself fairly quickly. Besides RMNP, I use it at Badlands quite a bit. Want other options besides this pass, there is the Senior Annual Pass $20, Senior Lifetime Pass $80, and Access Pass (free disability). Plus if you are current US Military you can get the annual pass free for you and your dependents. If you like volunteering and are close to a federal site (National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, etc.) if you contribute 250 or more hours you get one for free (I did that a couple of times!) Finally, if you have a 4th grader, they also get a free annual pass with a valid printed voucher from Every Kid in a Park website.  You can buy them at most federal sites or online for an additional handling fee. For more information go to https://store.usgs.gov/pass

We spent a little time at the Fall River Visitor Center, looking over the exhibits, talking to the volunteers and staff, and doing a little shopping- in my case buying books, everyone else water bottles (they forgot to bring one and I’m a stickler for hydration, especially at altitude.

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Grace took this awesome photo of me!

Since we had limited time and various fitness levels we decided to stick with day hikes, we picked the Bear Lake Area. As well drove through the park to get to Bear Lake we were in awe of the mountains. We pulled over and stopped for photos quite a bit before we made it the lower/bus parking area.

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Grace and Liz!

 

Word of advice Bear Lake is super busy- unless you’re planning on being there at 5 am or after 6 pm, use the bus and park away from the actual area. It will still be crowded but at least parking is easier. The bus is free of charge.

We got there around one pm- it was busy.  People everywhere…around Bear Lake. We decided to check out the left hand path instead of going to Bear Lake. We only made it to Dream Lake- taking into account our time limit (only drawback to taking the bus) and as previously mentioned skill level.

Hiking up from Bear Lake we passed Nymph Lake- again since it was fairly close to the trailhead it was slightly crowded. Making the elk cow grazing near the water’s edge a commodity that people wanted to be photographed with. Luckily, she didn’t seem to mind until people starting yelling at her to look up- then she wandered into the forest.

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Nymph Lake

Most people didn’t go pass Nymph Lake. For the most part we had the trail heading up to Dream Lake to ourselves. Passing various visitors and rock bouldering enthusiasts carrying their mats. It was after about the third group of bouldering folks passed us and another group that someone asked why they were carrying mats. I grew up bouldering without the mats but now that I’m older and looking at getting back into it the mats look nice. Since I had the background knowledge, I was able to provide an answer and for the next mile I was the other group’s tour guide…

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They stopped and turned around at a high point before the trail plateaus off for Dream Lake. We paused for a few moments to take some photos before heading on to Dream Lake. I really enjoyed the area just before we go to the lake, it was a beautiful little area with a babbling brook trickling through.

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Dream Lake was memorable, mountain tops in the distance (I believe we were looking at Flattop Mtn.), high ridges surrounding us, and very few people. By this point, the folks passing us were speed hiking to Emerald Lake or heading back down to Bear Lake. We spent a little time taking photos before starting back down ourselves. I wish we had gotten there earlier in the day so I didn’t have sun flare in the photos.

We made it about halfway down before the ravenous hunger set in- we started talking about what we wanted to eat. I about cried a little bit because all I wanted was a cheeseburger, fires, and apple pie but my stomach wouldn’t be able to handle all the greasy goodness.

Before leaving the area we decided to check out Bear Lake- by this point there wasn’t very many people hanging out there. It’s also very pretty.

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Although, we had talked about going by the store and getting stuff for dinner- none of us wanted to cook and the closest restaurant was the Trailhead Restaurant.

At this point, I decided to get one last meal regardless of my stomachs ability to handle it- I was having surgery in three days and I didn’t want my (possible) last meal to be a salad with not dressing.

I got the Trailhead Buffalo Burger. It. Was. Amazing. I don’t know if it was the lean meat type, fate smiling on me, or what but I didn’t have any upset stomach problems after the fact and was able to have a glass of wine with my besties!

Relaxing in the cabin! I had that class of wine in the Jacuzzi tub (I was wearing a bathing suit).

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My glass of wine in the Jacuzzi tub!

The next day we headed out to explore Estes Park a little more- having breakfast at the Mountain Home Café again. Then wondering around seeing the sites, did a little shopping, and driving by the epic hotel from the Shining.

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Enjoying my morning coffee on our deck overlooking Fall River

Since I have smart friends, we had most of the day to kill and we went to Boulder. Free parking on the weekends, score! Boulder is a lovely town, my favorite store was the Boulder Book Store (who would have guessed?), followed by the Savannah Bee Company. Love me some honey, plus I’m a big fan of their Save the Bees campaign. Check out the Bee Cause Project at http://thebeecause.org/

All too soon we had to head south, Grace and Liz’s flights would be leaving that evening and I needed to head back to prepare for surgery.

After a lot of hugs, we were all on our way. Well I was on my way, Grace and Liz would have some downtime at the airport before their flights would actually leave.

It was a six hour drive for me and when I got home I was exhausted. My fiancée, Wade, was happy to see me and cooked me dinner (and kept it warm for me) making a perfect midnight snack.

It was a wanderful trip!

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Lead up to Gallbladder Surgery:

The next day, I cleaned the house up, did all my laundry, made sure my will was up to date and got ready for the surgery.

Now, when I had the appointment to talk about options and we decided on surgery. I asked if I could be awake during the surgery. The doctor thought I was joking. I wasn’t. Hence my making sure the will was up to date. Wade thought I was overthinking it- I was but hey we all have issues with certain things- mines being knocked out and cut open.

Wade and I decided to stay the night in North Platte where my surgery was taking place. I being the overthinking, overachiever showered three times using Dial soap (twice the night before and once the morning of). I went into the hospital at 5:30 am, took me back around 6 to do all the prep. The poor nurse had a hard time getting the IV in and had to call back up. My surgeon came by to check on me and let me know some of the after effects of the surgery would be- mainly air bubbles. Around 7:30 the anesthesiologist came to talk to me and Wade.

After hearing the plan, I told her not to tell me when they gave me the shot.

They didn’t.

The nurse came back a little while later with my shot of antibiotics (and the happy shot) the world go a little hazy after that.

Other than hearing the nurse telling Wade he should give me a kiss before they take me back I have no idea what happened until I started waking up in recovery to the worse pain ever.

A darn air bubble in my shoulder of all places.

That kind of surprised the nurse but it wasn’t uncommon; she thought the surgery site would be bothering me more since my gallbladder was twice the normal size and they had to widen the top incision a little more. Really the incisions didn’t bother me until I had to sit up on the couch at home or if I wore pants with a belt (like I have to do for work).

I was still on the gallbladder diet- no grease, no apples or pears (I was so sad), or any tasty food for a few weeks.

My recovery went really well. I’m now able to eat some of my old favorites (apples and pears) and I’m working back up to adding some of the tasty stuff like deep fried chicken back into my diet. I have four scars from the incisions, three on my right side in a diagonal line and one in my belly button. I look like I was in a knife fight with an OCD person.

Since I was laid up for a while I got to looking at dehydrated foods for backpacking. I’m looking at building a menu of foods for backpacking that go along with the gallbladder diet (or the no- gallbladder diet at this point). If you have some recipe ideas let me know!

Two days after my surgery on Friday another exciting event happened. My braces came off! After nearly two years of orthodontic work I now have a fairly straight smile compared to what I use to have. My original plan to celebrate the braces coming off was a big bag of popcorn, due to the surgery I had to settle for soup…

Once I returned to work  I found out my boss (the best boss ever) would be leaving for a new job near her fiancee- I can’t blame her but I cried. It got busy at work, since I was going to be taking off a lot of time in October and November. Pretty much all my time was spent in the office or thinking about stuff in the office. It’s finally starting to slow down and kind of return to normal.

 

Next time: The Wedding and Honeymoon Cruise!

Keep wandering,

BJ

The Cowboy Trail

Hi all! It’s been another busy week here in Nebraska.  I had two fun days off; well except for the eye appointment I had. As I let all my Facebook friends know I had some trouble with my right eye. I apparently scratched it at some point. Did you know that the material in your eye is similar to skin and when it is scratched it also scabs over?

I didn’t. I wore my contacts.

Guess what happens when you wear your contacts all day and take them out when you have a scratch?

Pain, a lot of cussing, followed by hours of swelling, irritation, and borderline insanity. Talk about a fun Friday night. The contact acts like a band-aid and once the scab has fused to the contact you rip the the scab off when you take out the contact. Unlike the band-aid and regular scab, it hurts for hours and you think you’re going blind. Or that that spoon you used for ice cream looks like a excellent way to remove the eye…

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It’s a little tough hiking around without sunglasses…

Luckily, I’m fine and wearing my glasses until the eye finishes healing up. I think I’m going to invest in Lasik after this go around though. Tomorrow on my next day off (Tuesday) I’m heading back to the eye doctor. Fingers crossed my eye has healed up!

Anyways, that little trip to North Platte was fun, other than the stop into the eye doctor. On my “Sunday,” and everyone else’s Tuesday, I got in a little training on the Cowboy Trail. It was hot- good practice for Badlands.

 

 

I had a hiking buddy for this little jaunt, my best friend on four legs, Princess! She loves getting out and about- but doesn’t like 100 degree heat. I do not blame her in the slightest.  We keep the hike a short one, only about a mile and a half. I could have kept going but Princess was trying to swim in her water dish. A 70-pound lab mix trying to swim in a five inch collapsible bowl is adorable to watch.

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I want to believe she’s thinking, “You’re an odd human.”

I probably won’t take her on high heat training days from now on, unless it’s under a mile or along the river.

This particular hike is over the river, the Niobrara River, in case you were wondering. We parked at the little trail head and started out. For the most part there is no elevation gain or lost (to me, but I’m also from Missouri and still think Nebraska doesn’t have real hills), along this little section of the trail. On the way back there is a slight incline from the bridge to the parking lot; usually I only notice it though if I’m carrying a pack to prep for the arduous Wildland Firefighter test.

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Heading west on the Cowboy Trail. On the right, in the distance is Borman Bridge- the official start of the Niobrara NSR. 

This is similar to many of the trails I’ll be tackling at Badlands- the Castle Trail for example, the one myself and friends fondly refer to as the “trek to Mordor.” We decided to hike it a few years ago, in August, midday, with only a few water-bottles between us.  Ten miles. We assumed there would be water at the Fossil Exhibit Trail head, we were wrong. Yeah, we weren’t that bright. We did survive- I now take more water than one person should be able to drink whenever I go to Badlands. Since it’s only a couple of hours from where I live now, I should be going up there more than once every few months.

Anyways, back to the Cowboy Trail. The Cowboy Trail, if it’s ever completed, will be the longest Rails to Trails unit. It crosses the Niobrara, near Valentine, NE. The bridge is amazing and has been featured in a lot of publications, video footage, and photos from the area. For more information check out these websites:

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One of my favorite shots- no I was not climbing over the railing to get it…

http://outdoornebraska.gov/cowboytrail/

https://www.traillink.com/trail/cowboy-recreation-and-nature-trail/

In fact the photo header for the Trail Link website is the bridge I’m talking about.

The walk we took, I like I said was a short one. It only lasted about an hour, about ten minutes of that was Princess and I sitting in the shade. We spent it trying to empty my water bottle- mainly over Princess.

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I have Badlands on my mind… and water bottle. 

I’ve walked over it several times in the last four and a half years that I’ve been living in Nebraska. It’s one of the amazing highlights of the Niobrara River Valley in my opinion. I decided to highlight the actual river in a future post (I’ll be doing a overnight floating trip soon). Sadly, it will not focus as much on backpacking or hiking since public land is limited and the hiking trails are usually under a mile.

Next practice hike on the agenda for my upcoming “weekend”- a trip to the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Princess will attend because she can hop in the river!

Keep rambling!

Looking Downstream from Cowboy Bridge
The Niobrara River, a neat contrast to the surrounding prairie. 

Is it summer yet?

Sorry it’s been awhile folks. I’ve been drowning in Grad school, internships, work, and life in general. After some crazy weather and a blizzard in April, I’m finally out and about. It’s a glorious (late) spring edging into summer now. The prairie flowers are beginning to bud, the grass is growing, and the trees are green. I’ve been getting out and playing on the Niobrara and taking photos of the river valley.

And I’m almost ready to wander…into the Badlands.

After my last post and what fleeting time I could spare to planning trips, preparing gear, planning a wedding, and trying to sleep. I came to the conclusion that I might have to do a few overnights and put off a three day trip until later in the year or even more sadly next year. I’m still planning on doing a two night trip into the Black Elk Wilderness this year.

So during the little planning I was able to spare for backpacking, and a growing nostalgia for the desert, I came to the conclusion to tackle Badlands. I’m going to do a series of weekends meandering along the trails and hopefully seeing Bighorn sheep. Another overnight at Custer and then I will traverse the Black Elk Wilderness.

Since, I now have time once more to enjoy my days off. I hope to keep to a far more regular schedule with my blogging. Although, I did decide to take a few writing classes (one this summer, two in the fall, and one more in the spring) to help polish my skills and also get a Professional Writing Certificate. The good news is one of the classes is on creative writing and I get to use some of the stuff I’ve already done! Yay!

Return to the Rim

Aggghhh! Time has gotten away from me; between the New Year, graduate school, and work I’ve been swamped. I feel so bad I haven’t posted the last installment of the Grand Canyon adventure! Here is the final part of the story…

6’ish… I wasn’t paying to much attention to time…

Cold. Blissful cold. If you like that sort of thing. I wanted nothing more than to burrow down deeper into my mummy bag and wait for the sun to rise and warm up the canyon. However, that never seems to work for me when I’m camping.

I’ll usually wake up early; if I’m camping with friends I’ll feign sleep. So I can stay in my tent and read or just relax enjoying the sounds of nature interrupted by the sounds of camp cookware clanking and low voices. I tend to do the same when I’m camping by myself. It’s odd when I’m home in civilization I’m a night owl that hates getting up in the morning and I’ll sleep in on weekends. Camping, my clock reset’s itself, I should camp more often.

This chilly morning in February, I got up with my hiking partner, the other guy had already been up for a while. After the usual morning ablutions, we had breakfast. For me that was one of the hard-boiled eggs and two granola bars. I kept hoping it would magically turn into bacon, tomatoes, fresh bread, and hot tea but alas no magical hobbits were running about cooking breakfast. However, at the time it was filling. Looking back now, I should have had about twice the amount of calories. I thought I had planned for the deficit, but I underestimated what I would need for the hike back up.

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Near the Rim; the geology was impressive.

After breaking camp, I took a few moments to fill up all my water bottles and the now empty Gatorade bottle. We took one last look around Indian Gardens and set off for the return trip up the Rim. My legs were only a little sore and each step seemed to loosen them up.

As we left the green valley of the garden, I looked back towards our resting place, the canyon beyond, and the invisible Colorado River; one day I will come back and explore this place far more. I adjusted the pack, once again better fitting because of the jacket and kept hiking.

We hit the switchbacks right away; for me these, and the switchbacks the last mile up, were the worst. Although, the ones at the bottom, in comparison to the last little bit, were easy. I was enlivened by my experience in the canyon, it was a new day and a new me.

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Indian Garden is behind my head…and a ways back down.

I honestly don’t remember as much on the first few switchbacks up. I do remember when at the last two in this section I wanted to find the person that made backpacks (or in the more likely the person that bought them in bulk for the training folks) and find out what his or her problem with short people was, because that pack was getting ridiculous. Did they just not assume short people hiked?

Overall, the trip back up wasn’t as exciting as going down; if we had gone on down to Phantom Ranch and back up the South Kaibab Trail or up to the North Rim it would have been more fun for me. However, we were doing a down and back on the Bright Angel Trail. I still loved it, but I had seen most of the views on the way down. I will say the view heading up was impressive. The Rim a huge wall just towering above you, it’s daunting but when you make it to the top it makes you feel invincible. The other reason I don’t think I enjoyed it as much was the impressive amount of people that clogged the last two miles of trail.

It was inspiring to look back up that canyon wall and think, by the end of the day I will be standing on top of that, not even the end of the day 2 pm at most. By the time 2 pm rolled around I was thinking, I’ve never wanted to push someone off a cliff but if one more person with a selfie stick whacks me their getting an up close shot of the canyon floor. In hindsight I really wish I had used my trekking poles as swords, at least it would have been entertaining.

The thing about the Grand Canyon is your essentially backpacking a mountain in reverse. Most people go up the mountain and then back down, at the Grand Canyon you go down first and then back up. It takes about twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down. I firmly believe at least forty five minutes of that time is just dealing with traffic jams, usually involving a selfie stick.

I kind of view people the way I view wildlife…from a distance. My job is interacting with people, it’s very outgoing and while I love it by the end of the day people just wear you down. It took many years for me to realize I’m an introvert. However, I do like talking to people and helping them out. The amount of people who visit the Grand Canyon made me rethink how people process information, especially in written form. So for the average day hiker, who only hike a mile or two down, really should pause and read the bulletin boards; especially hiking 101.

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Important trekking equipment for the Grand Canyon in winter; trekking poles and crampons.
  • Mules have right away; don’t jump in front of them to take a cool picture, you’re holding up the mule train and the rest of the hikers.
  • Also yelling and jumping because you’ve seen a mule “in the wild” while said mule is plodding by you, is a great way to scare both the mule and the person riding said mule. It also scares all the hikers who are waiting quietly while the mules pass, especially when the mule decides to jump sideways and almost takes out five people.
  • Take water. Even though it’s February, and the rest houses every mile and a half have water, if you’re not used to arid conditions you’ll need more water. Puking by the side of the trail is not a fun morning activity.
  • While it’s only a “courtesy” on both the website and the bulletin board; please give the uphill hikers the right of way. You won’t realize it until you’re coming back up but once you get in a groove of walking, especially uphill, you don’t want to stop.
  • It is a good sign if you can carry a conversation while you’re walking and not be out of breath. That said I don’t care what you had for lunch last Thursday and when you walk two abreast I can’t pass you; especially, when you either ignore or didn’t hear the “passing on right.” Talking is great, however, pay attention to your surroundings; not only the other people on the trail there is a whole canyon over there.
  • Keep the selfie sticks on the rim; the trail isn’t that wide and there are tons of people coming down or up that will be happy to take a photo for you. I got whacked twice by people who were trying to get that perfect shot and weren’t paying attention. (I did try to dodge, but when there are people behind, in front, and to the side of you, it’s hard to go anywhere.)
  • Last but not least; don’t wear flip flops. Surprisingly, several people thought this was great footwear. It’s February, there is ice on the rim even though it’s a desert area. I didn’t get to see any broken bones but odds are high that something might happen.

Sorry for the rant; but some things bear repeating. This is the part of the story I think my friend enjoyed so much; watching me rant and rave about selfie sticks seemed awful funny to him at the time. Like I said I still enjoyed the hike for the most part; I just would change the time we came back up.

I think hiking up at 4 am would have missed most of the people or at least put us near the rim with the first surge of people. Or waiting until about three hours before nightfall. All in all though, if you are thinking about taking a backpacking trip into the canyon, weather permitting, February or March is the time to go. Fewer people, pleasant temperatures in the Inner Canyon, and an icy finish.

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Remember: nice in the Inner Canyon, icy at the top in February.

After plodding along we reached the mid-point a stone rest house and met up with our driver and hiking companion from the previous day. She brought along another hiker to join our party. We ate a quick lunch; for me that was the other hardboiled egg, a couple of peanut butter bites, and an energy bar. Afew miles later I had the shakes; not from exhaustion or overexertion but because I wasn’t consuming enough calories. I ate the remaining four energy bars and most of the bag of peanut butter bites at a switchback near the top. Our fearless leader felt bad for not catching on that I hadn’t eaten enough, I felt like a dumbass because as an EMT and knowledgeable ranger I didn’t account for the larger calorie burn.

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One of the little rest areas along the trail… I was more interested in the geology behind it…

Craving a cheeseburger, fries, and a whole apple pie, we resumed the last leg of our journey. It was here I got a little annoyed with some of the members of the group, I’m all for conversation but I was in the “get to the top” eat a burger mindset. I was still in the rear of the group and each time the conversation struck up we would bog down. I started to stop and wait, let them get ahead and catch up. Once we broached the top of the trail, and dodged the selfie sticks, we on good terms again. I remember stopping at the big bulletin board with large stones; perfect for sitting down and removing crampons. Soon as I had the crampons off, I looked up at the trail head sign for Bright Angel.

I had made it. I survived my first backpacking trip.

I wanted to go again.

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Exploring Grand Canyon

Epilogue

After we finished are trip, the fearless leader and I went and dropped money (in my case a lot of money) in the Grand Canyon Bookstore. Soon as we returned to our lodgings, I ate a quick snack and jumped in the shower. I sighed in pleasure as I lavished each tooth with a healthy dose of toothpaste. Once hygiene had been reestablished, I checked on my online classes. Then I cracked open the first book on my reading list; it was the Emerald Mile. It is a great read about the fastest speed run down the Colorado.

Laying the bed and reading had a calming effect, i.e. I took an unplanned nap. I awoke to some messages about a Superbowl Party where mass quantities of pizza would be available. I felt like Toot-Toot from the Dresden Files; I hustled down the stairs to the commons. I inhaled a lot of pizza, still recovering from the deficit. The Superbowl was okay, surprisingly I liked Lady Gaga’s halftime show, and I once again fell asleep, this time on the floor. I was awoken by someone who was very excited about the winning team; I groggily made my way back to my room. I still don’t recall who won. I was going up the stairs when I felt the first twinges of pain in my calves.

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Hopi Point; worth the hike on sore legs to get there, even on an overcast day!

The next day I was sore but it wasn’t too bad, I took my time walking places. It wasn’t until Tuesday that the real pain set in; I woke up with a muscle cramp in my left leg. I took a warm bath and that seemed to help. After a long day of training, checking out some cool stuff too, I was once again heading up those stairs. It was so painful, that I fully implemented a plan for the world’s shoddiest rope sling elevator by the time I reached my door. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to realize my plan since I didn’t have any rope. A hot bath, two beers, and a couple of low dose pain pills later I was comfortable. I was on the phone with my mom and dad telling them about the trip and the late onset pain. My mom asked, “Was it worth it?”

Without missing a beat, “Hell Yes!”

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact I’m trying to convince my fiancée to take a combined rafting/backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon for our honeymoon. He gets to pick the honeymoon since I picked were we’re getting married. I keep dropping hints. I’ll keep you’ll posted.

Part Three: Interlude at Plateau Point

After descending more than 3,000 feet we arrived at Indian Garden, our home for the night. We paused to read a wayside sign about the area and the campground. A little orienting and we found our site.

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Indian Garden; photo by National Park Service; out of all the photos I took I did not think to snap one of the campsite.

Indian Garden; is a beautiful place. A perennial creek flows through the campground; I waded into the water even though it was only 60 degrees out but it felt so good on my sore feet at the end of the day. Cottonwoods and willows lined the small creek framing the ranger lodging/office before flowing into the desert and on to the Colorado. In a lot of ways it reminded me of an oasis; it was so green compared to the rest of the canyon.

The little ranger cabin/office also housed a little library area for visitors; they could even charge their electronics, and find additional information. I collected a few site bulletins about Indian Garden when we stopped in to rest our feet. I really wanted to go work in the Grand Canyon after seeing the backcountry cabin. I could hike every day and finally get rid of those extra pounds caused by cupcakes… and I could still eat the cupcakes.

The campground was so quaint; with little covered shelters that housed a picnic table and old ammo boxes for food storage. Apparently, the rock squirrels, deer mice, and ravens like free food that’s tossed to them; who would have guessed? Now, those little critters will just march up to a campsite and steal food lying around; so put it in the ammo can.

Now from reading the wayside (NPS lingo for guide sign on the edge of the trial) I learned a little bit of the history of the Native Americans in the area; primarily the Havasupai. I had limited knowledge of this and many of the smaller bands that frequented the desert. In college I took several history classes about Plains and Woodlands tribes and for my minor in Folklore I took a Native American Verbal Art class; desert tribes, except for the Navajo and Apache, didn’t really come up. I was regretting that now.

Back up on the Rim; while in the NPS bookstore I would find a very interesting book about the Havasupai, their history in the Grand Canyon, history with settlers, and their struggles with the NPS, and other agencies, since the parks creation. It is a worthwhile read, I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People by Stephen Hirst, for those of you that are interested.

If you are interested here is a link to Amazon: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=bjpennington-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0938216864&asins=0938216864&linkId=c9292a0d42182eb5486915185bb658cc&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066C0&bg_color=FFFFFF

FYI when I’m not hiking I’m reading; if it’s a great book or story about backcountry hiking or historical background I will sing it’s praises in my blog. Possibly, even base the blog around the book, if it features backpacking.

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When I sat down and read the book I was a little heartbroken by what had happened to Gswedva (Big Jim) and Burro’s garden land under the rim and how they were forced off of it to make way for progress. Thinking back to my time in Indian Garden, I could image their heartbreak at having to leave a place they had called home for generations. The sad thing was this didn’t happen all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, Burro was forced to leave in 1928.

Many of the other Havasupai would lose their homes on the rim and be regulated to roughly a 500 acre reservation at the bottom of the of an offshoot canyon, along Havasu Creek. Their restriction to the bottom of the canyon occurred in 1882, thirty-seven years before the Grand Canyon became a National Park, and it would take nearly fifty years to move all of the Havasupai from their Rim lands down to the small tract that was only suitable for farming. The Havasupai would augment their harvest with hunting and gathering on the rim in the winter. However, that was no longer allowed and could result in imprisonment if they were found to be supplementing their food storage.

Later in the 1970s the Havasupai would successfully plead their case against strong opposition from NPS, surrounding landowners, and even environmental groups to reclaim lost acreage on the top of the Rim. In 1975, ninety-three years since the small reservation had been established, Congress passed the Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act that would return 188,077 acres of both plateau and canyon lands to the Havasupai; enlarging the reservation from its 518 acres.

Sorry for the historical rant; back to the backpacking trip. We got our camp situated, pulled our lunches out, and sat down to plan the rest of our day. After reviewing the map and filling our stomachs; our driver and day hiker was going to return to the top of the rim, the experienced person in the group was going to hike down to the Colorado (I so wanted to do this but I was a little foot sore and my shoulders were killing me), and the newbies were going to Plateau Point.

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Like Quentin Tarantino I have a thing for feet; only my own though….

 

Leaving the camping oasis we had a one and a half mile hike to Plateau Point, through beautiful open terrain. It was warm, light wind, and sunny. The trail was well maintained and moderately packed with people. Once we got to Plateau Point the visitors had dwindled, only two other people were about and they left about ten minutes after we got there. We had the point to ourselves.

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Enjoying the Colorado River from above.

After taking several photos of the Inner Canyon and the Colorado River; I just sat and soaked it in; watching a lizard sun himself (or herself) on a rock, birds’ flittering back and forth across the inner rim. It was faint but you could hear the few rapids below and when the breeze was just right smell the river. I enjoyed my Gatorade, fruit punch is where it’s at, even if it leave a red mustache. We sat there a good chuck of the afternoon, watching the sun paint the canyon in different colors as it lazily drifted through the sky. All too soon we started our march back to Indian Garden.

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Lizard!

 

We were just getting back to the rest house at Indian Garden, the sun was just starting to go down; creating a beautiful backdrop to a spectacular day. I was sitting on a bench waiting for my hiking partner to return and to be rejoined by the other guy whom we saw coming back up the Bright Angel Trail from the river. When I was joined by a rather fit you man that was planning on hiking out that night; he had hiked down to the river himself and was making his return.

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View on the return trip to Indian Garden.

We got to talking, turns out this was a nearly a monthly trek for him and he loved the canyon. Since the light was fading we didn’t hold him up too long. By the time we had finished talking our fellowship was once again complete. (Did I mention I’m a LOTR fan?) We made our way back to camp for dinner.

It was mid dinner when the park ranger made his rounds checking the permits and visiting with the hikers. He was so cool and he totally loved his job. He answered several of my questions and recommended nearly half of the books I would buy the next day. Once our meal and conversation had finished we all wondered off to explore the fading light. I made my way down to the creek and stuck my feet in it again.

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Sunset at Indian Garden.

Looking at the Rim I was able to see the Watchtower light in the distance, before being overwhelmed with stars. Living in rural (and I mean rural) Nebraska we have excellent night sky conditions. In the Grand Canyon I was blown away. One quick trip to the bathroom and I wound up walking with my hiking partners again. We made one more stop into the ranger cabin, they were looking for something to read. Before returning to camp.

Once the sun went down and we were no longer moving very much it started to get cold. It was an early bedtime for us; we retired to our respective tents. I joyously climbed into my mummy bag and powered up my Kindle. I was reading about Australia in a matter of moments. Bill Bryson has a way with words and after reading about Ayers Rock, Bill explaining how it was a sacred place for Aboriginals’, I had a little moment of connection to how the Native Americans viewed the Grand Canyon.

Almost ten o’clock, I was getting sleepy but after drinking nearly a gallon and half of water I needed to make one more trip to the bathroom. It was a chilly walk but just as amazing; I thought the stars had been clear right before we crawled in our tents. I was wrong; everything was so sharp in the sky. I heard an owl hooting on my way back.

I didn’t want to leave.

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Part Two: The Descent

5:00 AM.

The last time I had gotten out of bed at 5 AM was because I was going to early morning basketball practice. Why was I doing this? Sunrise at the Grand Canyon.

I rolled out of bed and showered. We were meeting at six to drive over to the trailhead. I heated up a bowl of oatmeal, had a cup of coffee, and spent five minutes brushing all the plaque off my teeth. I was sacrificing dental cleanliness for contact solution space in my pack so I could wear sunglasses.

Then I fired up my laptop, like I said earlier I was in grad school. Taking classes online made life easier but it still took (and takes) up a lot of my time. I’m one semester away from having my Masters of Science in Secondary Education; come on May 2018! I wanted to see if anyone else had posted in the class discussion so that I wouldn’t have to cram everything in on Sunday night. I got lucky and was able to do the two required posts. I would have Sunday night free to relax. Wahoo!

Around ten till six, I put on my favorite pair of hiking pants, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, and a jacket. Grabbed my stocking cap and pack and headed out the door to wait. It was cold, around 17 degrees. Growing up in southeast Missouri I had a very limited understanding of what cold was until I moved to Nebraska. However, it was a dry cold so I didn’t seem to feel it; there also wasn’t the howling wind to contend with like in Nebraska.

I paused to look around, the last few days a couple of mule deer had been wandering around the dormitory grounds and I got a kick out of watching their ears. No deer this morning, so I hiked my pack up on my shoulder and meandered down the stairs, the same stairs I would come to loathe on Tuesday.

So far it was shaping up to be a glorious morning; the sun was going to rise around the time we made it to the rim. I was ecstatic as I walked towards the meeting point, the parking lot. The gang was all there. We had picked up an extra person; she was going to drive us out to the trail head at Bright Angel and hike down with us; then back out before nightfall. After packing the back of the van full of packs, trekking poles, and ourselves we headed out.

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Beginning of the trail, with the sun rising in the distance.

The sun was just creeping over the horizon when we pulled up to Bright Angel; I almost needed the crampons and trekking poles to get up to the trailhead. Ice was patchy on the concrete sidewalk and pavement accesses, my klutziness already creating havoc for me. Aside from some slipping I made it to the rim.

The rim of the Grand Canyon is a spectacular place. Standing there at dawn on a cold winter’s day? Simply majestic. It was quiet; the hustle and bustle of tourist, workers, and sightseers wouldn’t show up for another hour or two. Except for the buildings, rails, asphalt, and concrete, when I was standing at the overlook at Bright Angel I could almost image how it was pre-1920. Soon I would be stepping off into a slightly less developed wilderness and I couldn’t wait.

We took a few minutes to get our crampons on, trekking poles to the correct length (well I didn’t have to do this, sometimes being short is awesome), and taking a few photos. During this time, the sun hit the canyon, creating a beautiful blend of the shades; reds draining into golds, it was stunning. I could have sat there all morning watching how the colors changed and shadows played with the moving sun.

I knew though that those colors would be more vibrant and the shadows more dramatic the further down in the canyon. I wanted to see how the sun played on the Colorado River. I wanted to move.

I wanted to know how the world was below.

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Standing on the edge of the trail about a quarter mile down.

After taking one last group photo clustered around the Bright Angel Trailhead; we began our descent. Since I was the one with medical training, I thought it prudent to be at the back of the group. The most experienced guy, would take the lead and everyone else would fall in-between. We stayed within earshot of each other; although, as the progression went most of us stayed within two feet of each other. The lead guy would get a little ahead of us and stop and wait for us to catch up; by the end of the trip I would envy him.

The first mile though; was cathartic; at least to me. I was back in nature; hiking down a mountain into a canyon, and I was at peace. The way the trail drops down from Bright Angel we were hiking in the gloaming, predawn, even though we could look out over the canyon and see how the sun was changing the colors. The switchbacks were tight, cutting back against the side of the canyon; in places cutting through the rock creating beautiful arches to walk under along the way. The further down we got the more meandering the switchbacks would get, with rocks scattered at the perfect interval to sit and talk with other hikers. Or avoid the mule trains.

One quick note about the mule trains; I honestly don’t mind them. I grew up on a ranch, cow, horse, or mule manure is by far the least gross thing I can think to step in; just grass and water, sometimes grain. Although, there are some issues with using horses or mules on trails; leading to erosion and trail damage, it has some benefit. If managed correctly, it’s an excellent way for people with disabilities to get out and experience nature. On the trip down I only remember three groups coming through and only one with more than ten people. The trail guides were nice and keep their groups maintained and organized. Of course I might have just caught the right groups, at the right time of year.

We were the only ones for a few hours, around 9 we would begin to see a trickle, by eleven there was a flood tourist. But for those first few hours I felt like a character from a novel, I was picturing myself as a great adventurer; like Martha Gellhorn. I get the feeling I was more like Samwise Gamgee or even closer Pippin; I was ready for second breakfast by ten.

I was imaging hot eggs, sausages, tomatoes, and mushrooms; but I had to settle for a hardboiled egg and a granola bar. We had made it to a little rest house just below the snow/ice line. After taking a few moments to drop our packs, pull off the crampons, and use the facilities, we sat down to enjoy the scenic vistas and eat a snack.

I felt good, better than good; this hike was so easy! My what a big bite of crow I would have to eat a few days later. In that moment though, I was enlivened. I found something I loved; I knew I could take my wannabe status to the next level and become a doer. Heck, I was already doing it and it was amazing!

Sitting there looking out over the canyon was mesmerizing; the sun was further up in sky. The temperature jumped up a little higher; enough that my jacket had to go into the pack. I got to watch a mountain blue bird hop from branch to branch on a small bush next to the trail; looking for handouts. Please people, stop feeding the wildlife; they can fend for themselves.

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Not the best photo; but this bird was cute!

 

All too soon it was time to start the next leg of the trip. I shouldered my pack and realized I lost some of the stability I had when my jacket was on. I quickly retied it while the others were putting away trash and grabbing their own packs. I realized I wouldn’t get the pack tight enough to my shoulders to stop some rubbing.

Even with an ill-fitting pack I was in a good mood; although, the way I had the straps rigged after I took off my jacket the next mile down would have me struggling to keep the pack in place. By the end of the day, my shoulders would be a little raw and sore. But I never lost my enthusiasm.

Each step brought me into a whole new world for me. I grew up in southern Missouri; home of rivers, trees, and world class natural springs. Then I moved to Nebraska, the rolling prairie, the natural crossroads of three different ecosystems, and a river. Those places I knew and loved; yet I was having to make room in my heart for the desert, for the Grand Canyon. Aside from some of the animals and birds; I didn’t know the natural aspects of the canyon, only a few of the flowers and plants looked familiar. The geological formations, while breathtaking and fascinating, had me at a loss. I had no knowledge of the names or timeline for the strata lines. I had very limited knowledge of which Native Americans called this place home. I wanted to know more.

Once out of the canyon on Sunday, another colleague and I, would head to the bookstore; where I spend a small fortune on the books I would need to answer all the lingering questions I had while hiking. However, I was hiking through one of the most beautiful places on earth; getting all the answers could wait. I had better things to focus on; the canyon itself.

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Hey, look a battleship!

I was walking through a world of ancient rocks. A world of desert plants. A sea of purple cactus, in the low sunny spots. Purple cacti? Why is it purple? Okay, so I really can’t turn off the endless questions I ask myself. BTW, the answer I was given, by a passing park ranger, was because of overheating or stress to the plants in chilly weather.

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The purple cacti that had me wondering about plant species. 

The group and I were starting to get a little tired by this point it was almost noon; the trail hit a series of switchbacks leading down to the bottom. These switchbacks resembled the ones at the top; steep back and forth. At the bottom the trail leveled out, but the damage was done. It was here that my pack would start to bug me the worst and I would realize being at the back and slowing my stride was starting to hurt my legs.

I found this funny; my fiancé, Wade, spends a great deal of time teasing me about being short I am and how I must jog to keep up with most people. I wonder why all the time I spend jogging hasn’t gotten me into shape? The fact that I was outpacing anyone was hysterical. I took a short break letting everyone get ahead of a bit. I ate a 3 Musketeer staring up at how far I had come.

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Looking back up at the rim of the Canyon, thinking on the four miles I had trekked. I was proud of myself and it was only the beginning.