Saturday, September 8, 2007

Acadia National Park

At the end of June I spent 3 nights at Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island, Maine. Maine was the last state east of the Mississippi I'd never visited, and it seemed like a good excuse for a few days off.

The park is an interesting combination of ocean & hills, with clusters of towns scattered here & there across the island. Bar Harbor, the traditional old-money summer town, occupies part of the island, and the town of Otter Creek lies just outside Blackwoods Campground.
the ocean at Acadia

Acadia has no backcountry camping; there are car-camping campgrounds, but no overnight backpacking sites. I stayed at Blackwoods, which is the largest but didn't feel as uncomfortable as most car-camping sites do to me. I hate camping with lots of people around. The sites at Blackwoods are bigger than some, though I wish there was more separation than there is.

One trail to the top of Cadillac Mountain starts just beyond Blackwoods; it was the start of my first full day in the park. Cadillac is the tallest (1530') mountain on the Atlantic seaboard, and looking NE from Cadillacfeatures wonderful views. Trails converge on the top from all directions. (Acadia is dense with trails, offering extensive opportunities to link routes together into loops.) There's also a road to the top, and a huge parking lot, so it isn't the most serene mountain top.

There are, though, great views of the park, and of most of the state.

From Cadillac, it's a nice hike, and a quieter one, to Dorr Mountain. It's a steep drop down the east side, broken rock all the way, into a col between the mountains. An equally steep trail goes back up Dorr, which is several hundred feet lower than Cadillac.

Clouds over the summit of Dorr

From Dorr it was down the Ladder Trail to a nice walk along a lake called The Tarn. The ladder trail actually only has two short ladders- The Beehive Trail is much steeper- but does have several long steep staircases. The steps are tall, but very well constructed, showing the amazing amount of effort spent building trails through the park.

From The Tarn I went over to the park's "Wild Gardens of Acadia", which is a beautiful (and not very wild) set of nature trails through gardens showing off the varied flora of the park.

To return to the campground, I decided to try the park's shuttle bus system. The buses are new, clean, & quiet- much nicer than the shuttle buses at the Grand Canyon. They're also plastered with the logos of their sponsor, LL Bean, but I guess that isn't too bad. The shuttle bus system has a large number of routes around the park, most of them coming together at the villiage green in Bar Harbor.Iron rungs of the Beehive trail

Day two started early. I'd read about the trail up The Beehive, a 500' lump of rock on the north side of the island. The trail was reputed to be steep, the views great, but the crowds greater. I decided early would be best.

Calling the trail steep is an understatement. For large portions of the hike the trail is vertical. Iron rung ladders are set into the rock to make it passable; I'd really hate to climb this route at midday, with the crowd forming a line up & down the trail. It must make Angel's Landing at Zion seem quiet by comparison.

Still, for me, starting at 7am it was a great climb. Yes, it's strenuous, but it is only 520' to the top, so it isn't a killer climb. The top is windswept, with incredible views of the harbor and Sand Beach, Acadia's prime swimming & sunning beach.

I continued over the Beehive, down the other side and past a nice little Alpine-seeming lake, The Bowl. Beyond the bowl are still more trail junctions- I went west, climbing up Champlain Mountain at 1058'.

Champlain, from the Beehive

Champlain has good views into Bar Harbor- that day I could plainly see a cruise ship mooring in the harbor to disgorge thousands of passengers. I decided not to visit town again.

Looking back at the Bowl, Beehive, and Gorham

I retraced the route back down Champlain, heading for my third hilltop of the day, Gorham Mountain. Gorham isn't much higher than the Beehive- only about 25'- but it seemed like a good route to take back past The Bowl, along nice wooded trails.

All the trails I took through Acadia were well maintained & easy to follow. They have an odd method of building marking cairns up there- sort of a little bench with another rock on top- but they serve well on the trails without cover. In the woods, the trails need little marking.

From the Gorham trail I could look back and see all my fears of the Beehive Trail coming true, with a sold line of people slowly working their way to the top. I was very glad I'd taken that one on first.A crowd on the Beehive

Gorham had the typical wonderful view, but really nothing to separate it from the rest. The hike down is very nice though, with a side route (a little more rugged than the main trail) that takes you along cliff remnants that were at one time at sea level and now are huge stone blocks along the trail.

The balance of my trip was a quiet afternoon back at the campsite, and sitting at the ocean near the campground. There was a quick shower, leading to a rainbow, and one of my favorite shots from the long weekend.
rainbow over the ocean

All of the pictures from this trip were taken with a new 8mp Samsung camera I bought before the trip, as a replacement for my nice Canon than drowned in the Catskills. Same megapixels, but a point-&-shoot camera just isn't the same. They aren't bad, but I wish they were better. The full collection is at my Smugmug gallery.

Catskill 3500; Catching up

A weekend about catching up.

First note- after 4 years of hiking in the Catskill Mountains, I completed the requirements for the Catskill 3500 Club in June, on a hike of Kaaterskill High Peak with Katie & Jed. The hike was really nice, except for the rain on the way down the mountain. And the thunder. And the lightning. And did I mention the rain? After that, it rained some more. It rained so much that it overwhelmed my raincoat, and my pack cover, and soaked the pack so thoroughly that it destroyed my year-old digital SLR camera. Major bummer.

But I got a nice patch:

Catskill 3500 Club patch

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Empire State Building Lighting

For some months now I've been involved in demonstrations of new lighting for the Empire State Building. The final demo was early Friday morning, and rated coverage in the NY Times.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Grand Canyon- Havasu Creek

In mid-March I made a trip to the Grand Canyon, for the first time backpacking outside the boundaries of the National Park. For this trip, I'd be visiting the Havasupai Indian reservation, occupying territory adjacent to the park. The Havasupai town of Supai, Arizona, lies within the canyon, its 400 or so residents the only full-time dwellers in the Grand Canyon and control visits to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the southwest.

My full photo gallery can be found here , or as a slideshow here

I spent a day in the National Park, hiking along the rim and taking a bit of time to acclimate to the altitude. I took the chance to visit Shoshone Point, the only notable point I hadn't been to within the main tourist section of the park. It's at the end of any easy mile-long trail, actually a dirt road, and features a large picnic area that's available for rental by private groups.

Monday morning, March 19, I took off. To reach the trailhead from the National Park you take Historic Route 66 west from Seligman, turning onto Indian Route 18 a few miles east of Peach Springs. It's a good road, better than it looks on maps, actually better than Route 66. You travel about 60 miles across the Hualapai Indian reservation (the Hualapai were opening their reviled Skywalk this week, well to the west) to reach the parking lot & trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop.

View from the trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop Hualapai Hilltop is the Havasupai connection to the rest of the world. There's a large parking lot and a helipad, with trailers for stock, but not much else. Use care when parking- spots under the cliff look a bit too subject to rockfall for my taste.

For someone with experience on most of the South Rim trails of the Grand Canyon, this one looked fairly easy. By the time you've reached Hualapai Hilltop you've already descended through the Kaibab and Toroweap layers of the canyon, so you're starting out about 1000' lower than most other trailheads. The trail starts out steep, descending another 1000' in the first mile of switchbacks, then levels out as it drops to the creekbed of Hualapai Canyon. The trail is wide and in very good condition- easily as well maintained as the Corridor trails in the National Park. Just before dropping into the creekbed is the best vista of the trip, one of the few open views you'll have. There is more trash along the trail than I'm used to be seeing, but old mail containers were being used to pick it up. Like the conditions in Supai, it looked like the tribe had heard comments, and were working to correct them.

On the trail into Hualapai Canyon, Mt. Sinyella in the distanceOnce it drops into the creekbed the going gets a little tougher. For most of the 8-mile hike to Supai, the trail meanders through the creekbed of Hualapai Canyon, then along Havasu Creek. The wash is generally wide, with a number of herd trails weaving across each other, sometimes running over higher or lower ground. It's tough to generalize one as better than the other- sometimes the higher path is firmer than the loose gravel of the creek, sometimes it's softer sand. Either way, for most of this gently descending trip your footing isn't as good as you'd like. It's a long, tiring trail. Yes, compared to most trails in the Grand Canyon it's easy, but that's entirely relative- it's still 8 miles to the village, then another 2 miles to the campground. Those miles were easier on my knees than trips past, but harder on the ankles. If I were to take the trip again, I'd probably use the service that lets you send a pack down on horseback and save myself the effort.

Coming into Supai Eventually, Hualapai Canyon joins Havasupai Canyon; shortly after that, you reach the town of Supai. Much of what I'd read before the trip made the town seem like a blight within the canyon, but that's not what I saw at all. I saw a small, generally well-kept town. The houses, at least the ones along the main trail, are neat, most with air conditioning and satellite dishes. Most of them have a small corral for horses, and some have signs offering soda & snacks for sale. Many had toys & playground equipment in good repair in the yards. There are two churches and a school, along with the only post office remaining in the US that sends mail via mule train. There are also stray dogs everywhere, but they were friendly and not a nuisance.

Near the helipad (an open field) is the tourist office. It looked new, and there was no sign out front (A piece of paper had been added by the time I hiked out), so I walked past it and wandered for a bit before I got directions from a resident. ("Right across from the two-story building.") You pay & get a camping permit there, then continue to the campground between Havasu & Mooney Falls.

The campground starts a little below Havasu Falls, just after a new building with composting toilets- it was just opening when I was there, replacing porta-johns. The campground starts at a wide spot near Fern Spring, the camp (and town) water source. Tribal info says the water should be treated, but no one seemed concerned about it, streaming out of a pipe driven into the rock. For the best campsites, continue past this area. The canyon narrows again, with another half-mile of campsites on both sides of the creek (a narrow plank bridge provides a crossing) that are a little more spread out than the sites further upstream. The campsite is huge- at least a hundred sites- but didn't seem horribly crowded.

Mooney FallsBelow the campground lies Mooney Falls, the tallest of the set. It's about 200' tall, a thin stream pouring down into a pool below. To reach the base is a challenge, a steep, slippery descent along the edge of a drop, sometimes through narrow tunnels, and finally ending with two none-to-secure ladders propped against the rocks.
The trail to the top of Mooney Falls Signs warn against trying the descent in inclement weather; a lot of people weren't taking the trip even on the nice days I was there.

There's a fourth fall downstream of Mooney, Beaver Falls. I'm told that it's smaller but pretty; personally, I couldn't face another two miles of hikes with several stream crossings. I elected to spend my full day in the canyon hiking between the three nearby falls, and swimming at Havasu Falls.
Mooney Falls
One of the fascinating things about these falls is the contrast of the beauty of the falls themselves with the rock deposits built up around them. The disovled limestone in the water gives it the distinctive aqua color, and also filters out to form travertine deposits. Below the falls and in the creek the travertine forms dams; along side the falls it forms incredible projections, tooth-like stalactites that look like they'd fit right into a horror movie.

Havasu Falls Further upstream lies Havasu Falls. It's a little shorter than Mooney, at about 150', but it's wider, with more spectacular pools at the base. I spent hours here exploring the pools, taking pictures, and swimming in the water. I'm told that the water is about 72 degrees year round; it didn't feel quite that warm to me, but it was still comfortable, at least until the sun went behind clouds.

I had some time to myself at the falls, but eventually crowds started appearing. Some were from the campground, but there's also a lodge in town, offering simple rooms for those unwilling to camp.Havasu Falls

The pools at Havasu Falls The pools at Havasu Falls are spectacular, spreading out below the falls. They step downward until the creek reforms further down, but in the falls currents are (mostly) calm, and the water is deep enough for swimming. Use some care- most of the travertine is smooth, but one outcropping left me with scrapes on an ankle that made wearing a boot for the hike out the next day a little uncomfortable.

Navaho Falls Further upstream lies Navaho Falls, the shortest but widest of the collection. It's pretty, but not on the scale of the others. It's more private though, on a side trail that's easily missed on the hike from town, with a nice pool for swimming. I learned after my trip that there'd been a drowning here a few days earlier, so there's always a need to use care.

It rained on & off my second night in the campground, turning some of the soft sand into a heavier mud. Whether due to that, or just days of strain, the hike out on my third day turned out to be a very long trip, or at least it felt that way.
Pack train hurrying up canyon
One thing to be careful of along this trail- the pack trains run free from just outside the village to near the hilltop. A villager rides with them, but he doesn't seem to be in much control. They run at high speed and can come up on you quick if you aren't paying attention. They're responsible for the winding, braided trails through the creekbed, each horse taking his own path.

Many of the horses didn't look like they were in the best condition to me. I don't know much about working horses (Hey, I live in Brooklyn), but these all had patchy fur, worn by pack straps, and looked very skinny. Horses being ridden by guests did look a little better treated.

The trail rises a few hundred feet from the campground to the village, then seems to level out. It actually gains about 1000' between the village and the point where it leaves the canyon floor and starts the climb to Hualapai Hilltop, but spread over miles it isn't very noticeable. That last 1000' up from the creekbed, though? That's rough. It took me about 5 1/2 hours from the campground to the hilltop, not bad for 10 miles, but that last mile took a full hour of it.

The next day I returned to the National Park, getting to take some pictures in varying lighting from what I've had before. The mix of clouds & sun led to some great patterning in the canyon.
The Tanner/Beamer area, site of my April 2006 trip

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Grand Canyon, again

This morning I drove up to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix, about 3.5 hours. Spent the day hiking on the rim, including my first trip to Shoshone Point, which I think is the last South Rim trail I hadn't taken before.

Spending the night in Williams before hiking in to the Havasu Falls area tomorrow for 2 nights. Hoping the weather holds.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Glacier Park

In September of 2006 I took what was intended as a six-night backpacking trip in Montana's Glacier National Park. I'd been there before in the summer of 2004; this trip was about half new territory, the balance revisiting some of my favorite places from the earlier trip.

The full photo gallery is here, or can be seen as a popup slideshow here

Looking north along the Garden Wall, from Logan Pass
I came into the park at the West Glacier entrance, after a visit to my friend Gayle and her adorable daugher Riley in Bigfork. From the west, I crossed the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road, a spectacular artifact of the days before Environmental Impact Statements. It's a spectacular ride, even though its being there is probably an affront to nature. There's a lot of work going on along the road, part of a complete rebuilding, so traffic can be stopped for up to a half hour at a time.

St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island You cross the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, home to a very crowded Visitor Center and some good dayhikes; it's also a starting point for the Highline Trail. The Highline is one of the trails I'll be taking on this trip, but due to the fact that the Hiker's Shuttle service ended the week before my visit, I can't start here if I want to get back to my car. It's unfortunate, given that starting at Swiftcurrent adds 2000' of vertical gain at the start of the hike.

From Logan Pass, the road curves down to the east side of the park, past St. Mary Lake and its Mt. Wilber, from Many Glacer Hotelnearby townsite, which had been evacuated during fires over the summer. To get to Many Glacier/Swiftcurrent you turn north, then reenter the park after a few miles. The winding Glacier Route 3 goes past historic Many Glacier Lodge, a campground, and the ranger station. Glacier requires that you pick up your backcountry permit the day before or first day of your hike, after you sit through a video on the park, and bear country concerns.

I spent the night at Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge, which features rather Spartan accomodations. The have small cabins, with or without a private bath (it's actually in the "living room" of the tiny cabin) or motel rooms with bathrooms. For me, the cabin with bath is the better deal.

I started out early Saturday morning, heading up the Swiftcurrent Trail, over Swiftcurrent Pass, to Granite Park.
Heading into the Backcountry Swiftcurrent Valley The trail begins at the end of the motor lodge's parking lot and meanders up the valley, gaining little altitude for quite a ways. The trail, past several lakes and Redrock Falls, is a popular dayhike route, particularly when other area trails are closed due to bear activity. You only gain about 300' over the first four miles, then the climb begins.

Over the next three miles, the trail gains 2000' on the way up to Swiftcurrent Pass. The trail is sometimes very steep, and snowbanks off to the sides of the trail show how little impact summer has at this altitude.

Finally, at about 7200', you cross the pass. Just below the pass there's a side trail climbing higher, to a little lookout shack 1300' higher on Swiftcurrent Mountain. I'm sure the view is great, but I couldn't face any more altitude that day.

The Garden Wall and Highline Trail After going over the pass, you have about 1-1/2 miles to go to Granite Park, dropping 800' along the way. Here, the view south along the Highline trail is spectacular. Logan Pass is about 8 miles south, about the same distance as the hike from Swiftcurrent, but more of a rolling trail with much less stressful altitude gain.

Arriving at Granite Park Chalet Eventually, you reach the Chalet. Rooms are available here for hikers, along with meals. There are few amenities, though, not even water- you have to bring or filter your own.

My night was spent at the Granite Park campground, a little below the chalet. It's a great spot, with 4 or 5 sheltered sites and a Glacier-standard pit toilet- just a little wooden box with a hole cut in the seat over a pit. Only at the more open campsites is there even an outhouse around it; it actually isn't that bad, the open air keeps the odors down.

Water isn't that close to Granite Park- there's a stream a bit away from the campground, just below a ranger shack. This was the scene of my first disaster of the trip- as I cleaned my new water filter after pumping enough for the night and the next day, the ceramic filter element shattered. Just trashed. I'd be spending the rest of the trip begging filters, boiling, and taking my chances. Luckily, I didn't pick anything up.

From Ahern Pass, looking into the Belly River Country Day 2, the longest day of the trip (at least according to the original itinerary)- 12 miles from Granit Park to Fifty Mountain Campground. The Highline Trail rolls through here, not looking that bad on the map. After about 5 miles you pass a spur trail leading to Ahern Pass, about 800' above the main trail. It's a steep climb, but a great view down the Belly River Valley. At this point in the trip I have no idea that I'll be on the other side of this view in a couple of days. At Ahern Pass, I'm a little higher than Ptarmigan Tunnel, part of my 2004 trip, less than a half mile away. But, again, I'm not planning to go that way this trip. Yet.

Goats at Cattle Queen From Ahern Pass, I returned to the trail, continuing toward the Cattle Queen Creek area. This is the only part of the trail that looked iffy on the map- it's about 1200' of elevation loss and then an equal gain, which isn't much unless it's in the middle of a 12 mile day. It's also home to dense vegetation along the trail, bringing out some of my bear paranoia. As a solo hiker, I'm very afraid of running into a bear. I'd love to see one, maybe a quarter-mile away on the other side of a lake, but I really don't want to turn a corner in the trail and find myself facing a grizzly. I spend much of the trip shouting out and slapping my hiking poles together, giving the bears a little notice that I'm coming. I never did see a bear, just lots of deer and a few groups of goats. (Or are they Longhorns? I can't tell.)
Cattle Queen Creek drainage
Cattle Queen is a very pretty spot, with a large spring cascading out of the north wall and across the trail. That's also the best water anywhere near Fifty Mile, which I wish I'd known on the way in.

One of my favorites, looking back up trail past the Sue Lake Overlook turnoff Leaving Cattle Queen is a steep climb that seems neverending. I know it's shorter than the climb up to Swiftcurrent, but by this time in the day it didn't feel like it. Around here I was passed by two guys who could only be called elderly; they blew past me like I was standing still. Actually, I think I was standing still, trying to catch my breath. I'd run into them again that evening at the campsite, where it turned out to be their last night on the Continental Divide Trail- they'd been hiking for four months and would finish the next day.
Approaching Fifty Mountain Campground
Fifty Mountain was, to say the least, a disappointment. The view was fantastic, but the campground was truly ugly, surrounded by burned trees from a fire in the late 90's. It actualy violates much of what I know about camping to set up a tent surrounded by that much dead forest. This was also where I discovered my second (minor) disaster of the trip- I left my rope & caribiner for hanging food back at Granite Park. From here on, I'd be using ground level lockups where they existed, or tieing together the strings from my tent flaps where they didn't.

A word about Glacier campsites- the standard model is 2-6 sites, sometimes a little close together, but with brush between them. Usually there's a separation of about a hundred feet to the food preparation area, and further separation from the food hanging/storage areas. You're not allowed to cook or have any food near the tents, to help prevent attracting bears. A fine plan. It also promotes a community atmosphere, meeting up with other campers at the food prep area for dinner.

Looking north toward Kootenai, Stoney Indian to the right, and my shadow visible just below center Day 3 was a long day, 9 miles, losing then regaining 2000' on the way to Stoney Indian Lake. Even with the altitude change, it didn't feel nearly as bad as the day before.

It's another great hike down from the Highline into the Waterton Valley, but again it's a little scary with dense, bear-hiding brush encroaching on the entire length of the trail. At the bottom is the Waterton River, heading north toward Kootenai and beyond to Canada. (Glacier Park shares a border with Waterton Lakes Park, and is dedicated as an International Peace Park.)
Stoney Indian Lake, the pass beyond Before Kootenai, I turn off to the east and begin climbing again, toward Stoney Indian Lake.

In a park full of superlatives, Stoney Indian is in a class by itself. The lake is just beautiful, nestled 800' below the pass. It's a little cold for swimming, but the cold water felt great on my feet after the long climb.

The campground spans one end of the lake, with tent sites above the lake to the south, the food area on the northwest side. Sheer cliffs stand on either side; for quite awhile I watched a group scrambling down from the north. They'd been making an attempt on Mt. Cleveland, but had to turn back before the summit, leaving them pretty well bummed out.

The other mild entertainment was the goats, which seemed to be having a family spat on a cliff edge on the south side, hundreds of feet up. It was a little disconcerting to watch one chasing another along the edge, and more disconcerting to hear them kicking rocks loose all night long.

Day 4: One of the "shorter" days, 7.5 miles, up 800' to Stoney Indian Pass, then down about 2000' past Glenn's Lake to the turn-off to Mokowanis Lake.

First thing in the morning, the climb to Stoney Indian was quick, painless, and spectacular. Maybe I was finally getting acclimated to the altitude? After all, my apartment may be close to the highest point in Brooklyn, but it's still only about 100' above sea level.

Looking down over Atsina Lake, Glenn's & Cosley Lakes beyond. Over the pass, the Mokowanis & Belly River valleys are laid out in front of you, the glacier-carved valleys just amazing to see.
Paiota Falls
The trip down into the valley is almost a continuous series of waterfalls. The Mokowanis Cascade, Paiota Falls and Atsina Falls splash near the trail; Raven Quiver Falls stands above it all, the feeder for the river.

The floor levels near Mokowanis Junction, a bug-infested campground in the middle of nowhere. Of all that I saw in the park, MJ had the least to offer. I'm very glad I wasn't staying there.

Glenn's Lake Eventually the trail crosses the river at the head of Glenn's Lake, near White Quiver Falls. Tomorrow I'll be heading back this way, staying at a campground near the head of the lake.

At this point, I've started retracing my hike from 2004- my friends Keely & Steve & I had come this way then, and I really wanted to get back here.

Mokowanis Lake, Pyramid Falls in the distance Mokowanis Lake may be the most beautiful place I've ever camped. It's a small campground, only two sites, on the edge of a fantastic mountain lake. A mile away Pyramid Falls crashes down from Margaret Lake, feeding Mokowanis.

Fishing in Mokowanis Lake The only complication was finding both of the sites taken. A little permit comparison showed that one of the groups was in the wrong place- they were supposed to be at Mokowanis Junction. I felt sorry making them strike their tents, but not that sorry- I'd been looking forward to coming back here ever since I'd left two years ago; I had the right to the spot, and I wasn't giving it up. A little delay, but nothing to keep me out of the lake for too long. Finally, a chance to relax and swim a little, relax a little.

It also made for a great night at dinner, comparing notes with the other group at the campground. The were from Wisconsin (I always seem to meet people from Wisconsin backpacking), and I discovered that one of them was the chef at a Madison restaurant I'd eaten at a couple of months back. Small, small world.
Pyramid Creek cascading toward Mokowanis Lake
Day 5 dawned cloudy, but not terrible. I only had to go 1.5 miles to Glenn's Lake today, so I had time for exploration. In 2004 we'd had two nights at Mokowanis, and made the hike to the falls, but the weather was threatening so we didn't go farther. Today, I'd follow the creek up to the falls, then see about climbing up.

Margaret Lake I knew from maps & trip reports that at the top of the falls lay Margaret Lake. It looked like there was a clear route up to the left of the falls, a pile of rocks at about a 45 degree angle heading in the right direction. Sure enough, the sketchy herd path lead that way, and it turned out to be a pretty easy climb.

Up on top, Margaret Lake was everything promised- each lake I got to seemed to top the last, and Margaret was a beauty. (Sue, Helen, Margaret, and Elizabeth are all lake-names in this part of the park. Supposedly, Mr. Cosley, a noted prospector and explorer of the park, named them for his favorite "fallen women" in a nearby house of ill-repute.)

The clouds weren't breaking much; it was cooling down and getting windy. I decided to head back, and make for my next camp. It was an easy, quick, level hike, and honestly I was hoping for more swim time. But by the time camp was set, things started looking even worse.

Along the way I'd heard a loud explosion, a strong, quick blast followed by a few echos. I had no idea what it was.

I set up camp and was eating lunch when a ranger and his friend wandered by. They were heading up to the pass, and gave me the first weather report I'd had since coming into the backcountry days ago. Snow was moving in that evening, he said, likely continuing for days. My next day was supposed to be another short one, only about 4 miles to Cosley Lake. He suggested that I go farther, to the Gable Creek campground, so that I'd have less distance to hike out Friday, which was supposed to be even worse. He told me that it'd be no problem, given the weather, to go off my itinerary- there'd probably be an open site. If not, I could camp near a ranger station. I considered it.

While we talked, several other rangers came by from up the trail, on horses & mules. The leader called to the ranger "Remember that hazard-tree on the trail? It's gone." The ranger I was speaking with responded "Most of the park heard that. Think you used enough?" They all laughed and continued on.

That night was pretty miserable. My nice tree-lined site ended up very, very wet, with snow falling on the trees and melting just enough to be big, loud drops on the tent. Then the tent leaked. Badly.

The next morning found the weather going back & forth from rain to snow. It was ugly. I packed up and ate, then headed out, unsure of where I was really going. Cosley Lake had been a highlight of 2004, with a pretty lake for swimming, and a great place to spend the afternoon. There'd also been Craig & Yumi, a terrific couple (from Wisconsin) that we'd spent dinner time with. I planned this trip as an attempt to relive that, but this weather wasn't leading me that way.

Along the trail I made fantastic time- I was going at a 3-4 mile/hour pace, unlike my usual 2. As I neared Cosley I knew it wasn't going to be a good place to stop. I thought about following the ranger's advice, but given the condition of my tent (and wet sleeping bag), I started thinking about hiking out of the park that day, a day early. I decided to go for it.

At this point, I had two choices- 8 miles with only a little elevation gain to Chief Mountain trailhead, or 12 miles with 2500' gain & loss back to Swiftcurrent. Neither choice was great- Chief Mountain was my designated destination, but for the next day. I had a reservation for the shuttle to Swiftcurrent, again for the next day. I wasn't even sure that I could make it to the trailhead in time for the the shuttle; if I missed it, or if it was full, I'd be hitchhiking. That's supposed to be pretty easy up there, but given the weather I wasn't convinced. If I got there and couldn't get a ride, I'd be really screwed, about 30 miles from my car at Swiftcurrent.

So I decided to take the direct route.

This wasn't the smartest idea. I knew it was a bad idea, but I did it anyway. I was going off itinerary, so if I went missing, no one would know where to look. Worse, no one would be looking for me for another day, at least. And it was very unlikely that anyone would be coming into the backcountry from that direction.
On the trail, looking toward Helen Lake hidden below clouds
But, I did it anyway.

Most of the way wasn't that bad. It was cold & snowing, but even with wet feet (my "waterproof" top-recommended by Backpacker hiking boots leaked) it wasn't that unpleasant. The snow-covered scenery was spectacular. And I was following footprints, so I knew someone had come this way before. Eventually I was at almost the height of Ahern Pass again, above Helen Lake, though this time I couldn't see it in the clouds.
Approaching the tunnel, and the clouds The hike through Ptarmigan Tunnel had been a rough point in 2004. We did that trip in July, but still had snow, and Keely was on the edge of hypothermia by the time we got there. This trip was no better. I was alone, out of breath, and unable to stop because when I did, I started to get cold. That wouldn't do at all.

I skipped lunch, and I didn't even drink much (bad decision making? You bet!). I did have one set of hand warmers with me, ready to go in my boots if I stopped feeling my toes, but that never happened. I got lucky.

Through the tunnel, above Ptarmigan Lake In early afternoon, I passed through Ptarmigan Tunnel (I did at least have a granola bar and change my socks there, in the bitter cold) and back into the Many Glacier area. From here, it was still another few miles, but I made it back to Swiftcurrent without notable problems. My car was in the lot- I was disgustingly wet, mostly sweat, so I changed in the car, shivering absolutly uncontrollably, probably hypothermic myself, before driving the 100 yards to the motel.

I even managed to get a room without a reservation, though I had to take the expensive motel room- they didn't have a cabin with bath, and after the day I'd had I wasn't going to deal with a community bath.

At dinner, where I inhaled food like I hadn't eaten in weeks, I ran into trail aquaintences who couldn't quite believe the distance I'd done in that weather. They told me it was over 18 miles. In retrospective, I think it was about 16- the mile measurements they looked at were probably to the ranger station, which is farther than the motel- but it was still likely the longest I'd done in a day, certainly the longest with a full backpack. And it was a really bad idea.

Wild Goose Island in the mist The next day was a trip back across the park, and a night in a Kalispell motel with everything from my pack hung up to dry. After another night at Gayle's, home to NY with some good stories about bad decisions.

USS Monitor Center

OK, it's actually something from the office, but it's worth posting.

For almost a year I've been working on a museum expansion in Virginia. The official opening was Friday, and the NY Times reviewed it yesterday. In typical Times style, I can't really tell if they liked it or not.

Zion & Grand Canyon National Parks

The Virgin Valley
Back in October I had a great trip to Zion National Park & the Grand Canyon with Jennifer, who I share an office with. We had one night in Zion, a night on the North Rim of the canyon, and three nights below the rim along the North Kaibab trail.

The full gallery is here, but in an attempt to figure out what I'm doing, I'm going to play with posting pictures.

The climb to Angel's Landing, with chains to hold.
Zion Park, in southern Utah, is often compared to Yosemite Park in California- they're both centered on lush valleys, at least. The Virgin River Valley is the heart of Zion, and the climb to Angel's Landing is a classic day hike in the park. It's about 5 miles round trip, about 1500' vertical gain. Neither of those sound too bad, but it's seriously steep & exposed in the upper sections, and not for the acrophobic. Like the woman slowing down the trail, stuck at a tough spot being urged on by her "friends". For all I know, she might still be up there, afraid to come down.

Buffalo, not roaming very far
From Zion, we took a nice drive out through the park and down to the Grand Canyon. One of the highlights of the ride down was passing by a general store with a herd of buffalo hanging around outside. The story is that they come there most days for the water supply, and are used to people being around.

Looking south from Point Imperial on the North RimThe North Rim had closed for the season the week before. It's only open from mid-May (usually Mother's Day weekend) through about October 15. The highway is usually kept open until around Thanksgiving. No services are available, but the campground is open and there's normally a ranger present.

After a night on the rim, we headed down the North Kaibab trail, bound for Cottonwood Campground. It's about 7 miles and several thousand feet lower. The NK is a pretty easy trail by Grand Canyon standards- none of the trails is easy, but on a cool, overcast fall day, the NK isn't bad. Water was still available at Supai Tunnel (though it gets shut off not much later) and at the campground. Cottonwood is the smallest of the three "Corridor" campgrounds in the park- we'll be at another, Bright Angel the next night; the third is Indian Garden along the Bright Angel Trail. There are about a dozen sites, varying in size & shade, but all with picnic tables and poles for hanging packs out of the reach of mice & other little rodents. Though they do get hung at a nice height for browsing deer. There are also ammo boxes to put food into for protection.

Jennifer at Upper Ribbon Falls About a mile further down trail from Cottonwood is Ribbon Falls, a justifiably popular side trip from the trail. The weather was overcast & a little threatening, but we decided to take a side trip that I'd never quite managed in two prior trips on the NK trail. From the trail you cross a bridge over Bright Angel Creek & bear left along the side trail to the falls; if you look, there's a slightly obscured trail to the right. This leads to Upper Ribbon Falls. It's very steep at the start, then levels out and crosses through a beautiful valley before reaching the Upper Falls, a mile or two from the trailhead. Another couple of miles up lie Upper Upper Ribbon Falls, but we skipped that trip.

The next day took us to Bright Angel Campground, near the confluence of Bright Angel Creek and the Colorado River. The campground is very large, but the creek usually covers noise pretty well. Nearby is Phantom Ranch, with cabins & bunkhouses available by reservation, and with a canteen serving breakfast & dinner (again, by reservation only) and serving light snacks, drinks, and beer! Beer is about $3.50 a can, less than I'd pay at home, and in Brooklyn it isn't delivered by mule.

The Colorado is crossed by two suspension bridges near Bright Angel, giving access to the trails The Colorado, looking west toward the Silver Bridgecoming down from the South Rim. It's a popular destination, and the trails are busy. It's also a big stopping point for river runners, and the spot where some hike in or out at the beginning or end of a rafting trip.

The next day saw us retracing our hike up the North Kaibab to Cottonwood. For me, a highlight was passing by Maverick, a Grand Canyon hiking legend. In 2006, to celebrate his 80th birthday, he decided to hike across the canyon 80 times. He hit that mark a few weeks before we saw him, then kept going- he was on #84 when we passed him.

Ribbon FallsClimbing back up the NK trail took us back to Ribbon Falls, this time on a much clearer day than the first visit. It's a great side trip.

We spent our last night at Cottonwood again, then hiked out the following day. We were off trail around noon, which isn't that bad for 7 miles and 4000', with a backpack.

All in all, a good trip.