Friday, May 29, 2015

Quick Update - CDT Grants to Cuba!

Rachel and I finished the Zion traverse which was epic and hitched back to Kanab, Utah.  We then hitched 220 miles from Kanab back down to Flagstaff, stayed in a motel and took a 4:30 am train to Gallup, NM.  Another 60 mile hitch and we were in Grants, at the wonderful Mumms - trail angels who offer rides and a place to mail stuff to as well as water and trail information.  We could even see Mt. Taylor from town, which is a former super volcano just like Mt. Humphrey's near Flagstaff.  Rachel and I called Humphrey's the pointy mountain, while Taylor is the lumpy mountain since it's very wide and gradually slopes to a dull knob at the top.

We also met our first two CDT through hikers - Picker and Greg, hung out with them and stayed in another motel in Grants.  The next morning we set out for the trail and began the first 111 mile section of the CDT to Cuba.  The New Mexican desert seemed very similar to northern Arizona at first, especially coming over Mt. Taylor (11,300 ft) and the 25ish mile long dirt road walk afterwards, but we quickly dropped into beautiful open mesa country.  We also met several more CDT hikers, we're up to over 10 now (more than we met on the entire 800 mile AZT).

Here in Cuba we ran into Carrot Quinn and Spark who I hiked part of the PCT with in 2013 (and the rest of "team dick butt") at the McDonalds before they left a day ahead of us.

So far the trail has been well marked, easy to follow and fairly scenic.  We hear it gets even better going into Ghost Ranch - our next resu
pply 53 miles away.  Unfortunately, our low snow year in southern CO was decimated by a series of storms that dropped several feet of snow.  We're taking our time to give the snow time to melt/consolidate and hoping we won't need snow shoes if we can get there in 10 days or so.

Photo's are here!

Buckskin Gulch

Note:  Rachel and I made it to Cuba, NM on the CDT yesterday!

The day we finished the AZT our ride from the northern terminus, Whistlin' Jim, offered his truck to our cause.  He drove us to Kanab, then right back where we started to the stateline campground so we could get an early start on Buckskin Gulch.  The BLM only allows 20 people per night to camp in the entire canyon system (about 60 miles of slot canyon) and permits were booked for over a month.  Instead, we figured out we could hike in the Wire Pass trail head and connect to Buckskin, then to the confluence of the gulch and the Pariah River where we would hike upstream for 7 miles to a campground that didn't require permits for a total of 21 miles. All the photos are here!

Jim dropped us off and we quickly met some campground neighbors, a retired couple from Vermont who were really curious about long distance backpacking and a woman traveling to Maine from California to work on her sisters goat ranch.  The stateline campground at the end of he AZT is free and first come first serve with only 10 or so sites.  I think that makes it cozy and people more friendly, it's also set right next to a beautiful mesa.  By the time we got back it was full up, so we stayed in the day use area and quickly met another neighbor doing a road trip to Maine from the bay area.

Our newest campground neighbor wanted to leave early the next morning and offered to give us a ride over the 1.2 miles to the Wire Pass trail head at 7 am, which we gladly accepted.  Once at the trail head, it wasn't totally obvious where to go since nothing is marked so we just followed the herd of footsteps left by countless day hikers before us into a slowly narrowing canyon.

Eventually we entered the start of 17 miles of trail-less slot canyon.  The walls quickly grew to hundreds of feet high yet narrow enough to touch both sides with outstretched arms.

Occasionally the canyon would open up, or the patterns on the wall would drastically change.  Flash floods shape the canyon against the hardness and structure of the sandstone, so slight differences in the bedrock create different patterns.  The most common was a sort of scallop scooped out of the wall from the turbulence in the flood water, which is often more soil and debris than water.

Further in, the canyon narrowed and large pools of water blocked the path.  It would be impractical to take our shoes off at each crossing so we simply waded through.  I borrowed a trekking pole from Rachel to test the depth and braced one hand against the canyon wall for balance.  The pools were generally knee deep but sometimes came close to our waists and felt icy cold.  Occasionally part of a tree was jammed sideways far above our heads from the same flood waters that left the pools.

At one point we had to negotiate some chock-stones, large boulders fallen in from the canyon walls.  At first it seemed the only way down them was through a 12 foot vertical drop with some tiny hand holds cut into the base.  I led the way but quickly found an easier route around them once at the bottom, so Rachel didn't have to risk the fall.

Eventually we hit the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and the Pariah River Canyon, which runs all the way to Lee Pass - the start of most Grand Canyon white water trips.

Once we began following the Pariah, we had to cross it numerous times over slippery clay banks.  Eventually the canyon opened up and we made our way to another campground near the main road shortly after dark, or about 8:30 pm.

Once at the campground, we collapsed into a cowboy camp interrupted by a brief but intense lightning storm.

The next day we hitched back to Kanab to stock up on food for our traverse of Zion National Park!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Grand Canyon and End of The Trail! (Flagstaff to State Line Campground - mile 800!)

Sorry about the long wait - photos are here!

Rachel and I hung around Flaggstaff for a total of four days!  Her enormous heel blister was warm to the touch and leaking red fluid when drained which are strong signs of infection.  We gave it neosporin and rest, along with a new pair of shoes that seemed to fit.  The town was really fun, our passage steward hosts were amazing to host us two whole nights! I wish I could drink more beer since there are 7 breweries in a town of 60,000 people.  We ended up spending one night at a motel and one night at a hostel in a private room, which is always interesting.

The AZT offers you two routes in the Flagstaff area - one shorter  resupply route directly in and out of town and a Walnut Canyon route around the outskirts of town.  With Rachels foot so badly blistered we took the resupply route in.  I was still wondering about that other segment so on the day we left Matt and Cass's place (day 2 of 4 "zero's") I did a day hike of the Walnut Canyon National Monument segment which was nice but nothing spectacular like the southern parts of the trail.  I thought it would be 11 miles to a highway but turned out it was more like 18 miles to the next highway where the bus stop was.  Oops, but I liked the extra 7 miles with views of Humphrey's and the other San Francisco Peaks a lot better than the segment I set out to hike. 

Finally we hiked out on April 28th, continuing our trend of taking the old AZT, this time into the Dry Hills just north of Flag.  The trail was nice but we expected water at Buffalo Park, a little city park full of dog walkers but the taps were turned off.  Instead, I snuck into the local USGS office and filled our bottles there, less than a tenth of a mile away.

The trail went through some lush meadows and then down a steepish trail where mountain bikers had built blow downs into jumps and drops, making me miss my bike.  We camped just 10 miles in near the start of the next old AZT segment - the Hereford trail to the Kachina trail which reconnects to the AZT by the Arizona Snowbowl ski area.  The next day was full of beautiful views of Mt. Humphrey's through open aspen meadows.  The aspen stick out in stark white contrast to the never ending pine forests, they even have little black spots that look like eyes!

We hiked by the Snowbowl where some runner guy asked us if there was snow on Humphreys, even though the peak is clearly visible and covered in snow from where we were standing.  Did he not know what he was looking at?  We told him he might make it up most of the way but it will get slippery and icey up top without some kind of spikes on his shoes.  He later ran off up the trail with a giant american flag.  Runners...

We then snagged some nice pond water at Bismark Lake and started a 22 mile dry stretch to Babbit Ranch, the start of what looked like a 33 mile dry stretch.  Oh and it's all road walking on old jeep roads across flat, open juniper forest.  Think stubby Dr. Seuss tree's every 100 feet or so with some high tension power lines for good measure.  

We made the first dry stretch ok, then spent a long time finding the water which should have been obvious at Babbit Ranch.  It was in a large metal corral when we first walked into the ranch but I was looking for a big circular tank and walked right by it.  I also had some confusing directions from other hikers via text message.  In the mean time a hiker I'd been asking CDT questions to passed by without us knowing.  Oh well, CDT practice?

Looking at the water report it seemed the only good water was in 33 miles but it turned out there was a cow pond in 10 miles and another 7 miles later.  That was frustrating since I was carrying 6 liters, Rachel 4.5, for no reason!  At least it was flat and cool.  We eventually made it to Russel Tank - another pond but probably the muddiest and grossest we've drank from yet.  Full of little floating organisms that died a slow death in our sawyer filters.  At the tank we met Julio, a female hiker that started March 1st and was taking it slow.  She was the first AZT thru-hiker we met since Pine!

The crappy weather started the next day on our way to the South Rim.  We planned on taking the old AZT to bypass the town of Payson and cut 8 miles of paved bike trails off our route but the weather was so bad we bailed about 6 miles from the south rim and hitched in.  No more "continuous" hike but whatever, we just wanted to see the damn Grand Canyon instead of slogging through sloppy clay road walks in shit weather.

The weather cleared up that night and we scored a cheap campsite at the south rim.  It was too late to get our permit, so we headed over the next morning and decided to wait out that days thunderstorms and get a permit for the following day - another zero!

We spent our day at the south rim doing the usual hiker chores - sleeping in, laundry, eating and unpacking boxes.  We spent the afternoon riding the free shuttle up and down the South Rim being tourists.

The next morning we boarded the bus and hiked down the Kaibab trail.  We had been warned about the steep trail for nothing, other than some ruts from all the mules the trail was great!  It took four hours to get to the bottom since we were taking so many photo's and gawking at the canyon.  Each geologic layer of rock had its own unique characteristics, making the trip down all the more incredible.  It really was a whole new experience compared to the view of the south rim.  We spotted what I think is a big horn sheep on the way down and ran into Hikin' Jim who runs this insane stove website.

We passed through Phantom Ranch and ate dinner at Ribbon Falls - totally incredible little water fall.  Apparently there is an Upper Ribbon Falls and an Upper Upper Ribbon Falls but I think we would have needed a rope to get there.

Our site at the Cottonwood campground was hard packed and rocky so we deployed the old giant rock trick to pitch the tarp since stakes were not going in.  Everyone seemed to keep to themselves and we were out early to hike to the north rim.  The climb went well, we saw lots of runners attempting to rim-to-rim-to-rim in a day (no thanks) with lots of great suffer-faces.  We camped by the park boundary just as it was starting to snail on us (snow/hail).  It cleared up that night and the stars came out.

The next morning Rachel came down with some nasty stomach cramps so we could only hike a few miles.  She was down to a crawl so I saw a sheltered side meadow and set us up there.  We were 2 miles from the nearest possible but unlikely water source but that might have taken 2 or 3 hours and made her recovery much harder.  Instead, I gathered wood to melt consolidated spring snow present in patches and drifts nearby.  Right as I was about to light the fire, the snow started.  We got snowed on the remainder of the day with a short break around 3 pm.  I spent a few hours in a cycle of gather dry wood from the nearby standing dead tree, feed the fire, get more snow, dump the water into a bottle, add snow to the pot, dry myself off by the fire and repeat.   Rachel felt really bad about it but what can you do!  She was feeling better that evening and good to go the next morning, so stopping was the right move.

The night was incredibly cold which caused condensation to build up in our sleeping bags, so our stuff was a little wet in the morning.  We might have been able to suffer through another 20 degree night but ended up hiking 20 miles and bailing to Jacob Lake - a little tourist station, by hitching on the "closed" highway from the north rim.  There's a bypass around the locked gate hunters/savy hikers use and north rim workers go back and forth on the road.  We got an expensive motel room, a hot dinner and dried all our stuff out.

The next morning we decided to southbound 17 miles to where we left the trail and hitch back.  Rachel's continued foot trouble lead her to bail halfway when we ran into some awesome passage stewards out for trail work.  I kept going and it was getting dark when I caught a lucky ride with some hunters back to Jacob Lake.  Meanwhile, Rachel was showered with trail magic in the passage stewards RV...  

After a lot of laughs and tons of awesome food we camped at the trailhead we started from to get an early start and finish the last 30 miles of the AZT!  It was easy pine forest walking, pretty uneventful.
The trail ends 10 miles down a dirt road from highway 89, normally you hope someone is there for a ride but we met Whistlin' Jim at Jacob Lake who agreed to meet us there and drive us out.  We met him the morning of May 12th just a mile from the end of the AZT!  He was super friendly, told some great stories and drove us to Kanab and back so we could day hike Buckskin Gulch. Thanks Jim!

Look for the next post on Buckskin, 21 miles of slot canyon in a week or two!  Photo's are here and we hiked across Zion - photo's here from that!