Sunday, April 29, 2007

Backpacking 101 Grand Canyon

At 3:30 a.m. on a mid-June morning my 13-year old daughter, Gina, and I strapped on a fully loaded backpack for the first time.We were about to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.Don’t shake your head at our naivete - my husband and son, both experienced backpackers, were with us, too. Husband Brad and 15-year-old son Zachary had plenty of backpacking experience through Boy Scouts.Postcards and guidebooks are no substitute for being there, so with back-country camping permit in hand, we boarded the 4 a.m. shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.We set out, and after a brief descent we reached Ooh Ah Point at sunrise. It was aptly named.After watching the sun rise, the hikers we had arrived with each set off down the trail at their own pace.A few hikers carried nothing but water, having sent their gear down by mule, and they seemed to fairly sprint down the trail.Most, however, were like us, laden with full backpacks, hiking boots and trekking poles (don’t leave the rim without them).Zachary was our family’s fastest hiker, Brad and Gina were fairly evenly matched in the middle, and I always brought up the rear with the shortest legs and the biggest camera. How much weight is being carried in a backpack is a huge consideration on an adventure such as this, but we opted to redistribute some food and necessities to bring along our bigger digital camera. We have never regretted the decision.There is no water on South Kaibab trail, but we were prepared and completed the trail to the bottom in about 5½ hours, enjoying every step of the way.The single rattlesnake heard and spotted was never really a threat.After a refreshing dip in the Colorado River, we proceeded to Bright Angel Campground where we set up camp next to Bright Angel Creek. Though it was extremely warm, we spent the afternoon exploring the area (complete with deer, not-so-wild wild turkeys and the mule corral), relaxing in the creek, and enjoying lemonade in nearby Phantom Ranch cantina, complete with hardworking air conditioner. Phantom Ranch was built in the early part of the 1900s as tourist lodgings. It’s still in use, and a must-see piece of Americana.The night was peaceful and we slept well, being awakened only once by the intense light of a full moon.We began our climb out of the canyon at 5 a.m., following Bright Angel Trail, which skirted the Colorado River for some distance. Sunrise from the bottom of the canyon was just as awe-inspiring as what we had seen the previous morning.The scenery along the trail was breathtaking and varied as we hiked out of the canyon. Along the way we met Ranger John, whose job that day was to hike the trail from the canyon floor to the rim, visit with hikers and make sure everyone stayed safe. He told us many stories about the canyon as we hiked with him.Bright Angel Trail has three rest houses where hikers can take a break and fill water bottles. We saw many more sure-footed Grand Canyon mules on this trail, and on the distant rim of the canyon we finally spotted historic Kolb Studio, home to early 20th-century photographers.As we approached the top we encountered tourists in flip-flops and tennis shoes taking a brief walk into the canyon and we, with our trekking poles and tired legs, began to feel that we were about to leave something very special behind. After leaving the floor of the canyon 12hours earlier, we finally reached the top, exhausted and ready to do it all over again.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Backpacking With Bears

Dealing with bears along the CDT can be tricky. You need to be aggressive. You need to make a statement and take a stand. Don't run, don't walk away from a fight. Example of how to act in bear country: