Saturday, July 26, 2008

Day Six: Hiking Out

N.B. This is the ninth of nine posts about my trip.
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Alas, no, this was not the kind of "hiking out" you do while sailing. After all, this was a rafting trip.

We had camped close to the Bright Angel trail -- at a very popular campsite, to judge by the number of pesky, persistent flies -- so we could up paddle to the trailhead first thing. A mere 7.8 miles of switchbacks and approximately a mile of elevation awaited us. To say that some of us were dreading this is an understatement.

The journey, though long (it took me 5 hours) was livened by changes of scenery - not just varying rock formations, but also some waterfalls and plants and even a few animals (squirrels, lizards and - curse them! - mules). I took well over 150 pictures on the hike up, but my camera did not really like the sand, water, and mud I'd been feeding it over the past few days, so even when I was able to flick the shutter open manually, strange things happened.

One of the aggressive and devious desert squirrels:

Elliot, Andrew, David, Larissa, Kris, and Kathy on an early switchback:

David, whose lungs are acclimatized to low oxygen levels from his cigarette habit, soon surged ahead and caught up to the other jackrabbits. I think he and KG ultimately finished shortly after Julie. Not that this was a race, of course. Though if it had been a race, Julie would only have won the "adult competition" or the "LJP competition"; Tyler (a teenager whose dad signed up for the rafting trip independently of LJP) says he arrived at the rim first.

Speaking of which, this is not the rim:

The formation on the left reminds me of traditional Chinese paintings of mountains; also of the mountains depicted in the Kings' Book of Kings:

View of the trail from approximately the two-thirds point, I believe (the shack there is probably the 3-mile station):

View out across the canyon... still climbing:

There's no mortar holding this together, folks:

Two openings in the rock wall. Presumably the "door" was carved out for the path. But I like to think the "window" wore away naturally:

When I got to the top, I found Drew and Tyler, who were waiting for their dad Curt. They very graciously told me the name of the motel we were all staying at (not quite sure what I'd have done without that information), then got some ice cream and headed for the shuttle bus. As I was about to get on board, I ran into Joe (another of the jackrabbits). He was on his way to look for his friend Andrew. And not just looking. He hiked back down to find him and keep him company the rest of the way up.

Several people had some unexpected physical challenges to deal with on the hike up; Joe and Ryan each went literally out of their way to help others in need. But everyone soldiered on, and everyone made it up.

The group quaffed and dined at the rim, and some of us also got up early - not quite as early as sunrise, but close enough to see dramatic lighting changes - to walk the rim trail and take breakfast nearby.

Thus endeth the Grand Canyon experience. There was some excitement on the return trip, I suppose, but hardly worth mentioning; parting was both staggered and bittersweet. Many good memories and many good folks.

N.B. This is the ninth of nine posts about my trip.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Day Five: The Calm Before the Climb

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After the Little Colorado merged into the Colorado, the water became a rich chocolate brown. As did our clothes. And skin. And hair. There's nothing like bathing in mud every day to build up a layer of grime that is impervious to soap and shampoo. People pay big bucks for mud treatments that only last an hour or so. We had a few days of it for no extra charge. Woo hoo!

Only the sky remained blue and clear:

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day Four: Day of the Rapids

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This was the day when we hit several Class III-IV rapids: Unkar, Nevills, Hance, Sockdolager, Grapevine and Zoroaster. (The Grand Canyon has its own sui generis 1-10 rating system, but the Colorado River's rapids do not exceed Class IV on the standard VI-level scale.) We got out of the raft and scouted Hance Rapids, ostensibly because one of the crew members had never run this rapid by himself before (he was handling a big ol' baggage raft, which has its own difficulties, but does not jeopardize the lives of the vacationing rafters).

We also visited an archaeological site, but there wasn't much to take pictures of. In other words, you have to know a lot about archaeology to get excited about what we saw there. Our guides didn't really seem to know enough to make the foundation stones and pottery shards come alive.

We set up camp around mile 87.

Andrew, who had been anxious about the big rapids* but helped everyone get through by yelling "Forward! Forward! Forward!", took the opportunity to relax with crew member Heather:

FN* Reportedly, this deeply-rooted anxiety had to do with one of the guides flipping him off on the first or second day of the trip. Andrew indicated a certain trepidation that our seemingly mild-mannered guide, Phil, would also flip him off. I think we should all cut Andrew some slack. He's a sensitive boy from the NY/CT area, so he probably hasn't encountered much in the way of foul language or gestures before.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day Three: Shadow Puppets

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We started off downstream, getting a closer look at the poison ivy first thing in the morning.

Esther was more enthralled with a backward glimpse of our campsite:

I was in Sarah's raft this time. Over the course of the day, she read to us from a guidebook about the Colorado River and asked us to tell jokes or embarrassing stories to help pass the time. Five minutes in to the journey, Helen seems to have had a long day of it already:

Ryan, though not paddling, remains alert:

About a mile later, we made our first stop: Redwall Cavern. Sarah made us promise not to look back to the entrance of the cave until we were all the way at the back. (She didn't say what the penalty was, but I got the sense it might have to do with pillars of salt.) So instead, I looked down and saw some animal tracks in the soft sand. I think I overheard someone say they were mouse tracks, but I'll defer to the experts out there:

This is the kind of view you get when you turn around:

Everyone went crazy with the picture-taking:

The light and curvature are a siren song to the photographers:

This picture probably helps give a sense of the size of the cavern:

To get an even better sense of it, consider this. Anywhere between 5 to 10 of us batted a beach ball around for a while in a big circle. (So much fun, but really thirsty work because our aim wasn't so good. Freddy was one of the die-hards in the game; not only is he a serious volleyball player, but he also has some fancy soccer moves.) Then other rafting groups joined us, setting up frisbee and other group games in the cave - and it didn't get crowded.

Further downstream, we went on a hike or two. Here's Julie preparing her ascent for a short mid-day hike:

And a view from below, as Stella enters the same rock formation. Note that this opening is formed by four giant boulders balanced against each other. Luckily, nobody sneezed.

The rocks were a bit different here. I liked this because it looked like poorly mortared bricks:

Here's David among a boulder-strewn path. He's in the center of the picture, you can see him if you look carefully.

Closeup of the prickly pear cactus, which allegedly makes good jam. That was one of the few delicacies our guides failed to bring or make for us, so I can neither confirm nor deny that statement:

After we set up camp, we went on a second hike bound for a fountain up a side canyon. The ascent was steep in places, and we reached a place where we had to wade in the water. It seemed kind of biblical, like a kind of baptism. A painful one for those of us who decided to do it barefoot:

On the way back, Kathy and I got separated from the crowd and lost the path. In true Darwinian fashion, we should probably have been set upon by coyotes and devoured or something, but we were pretty sure that the general direction to take was "down" and we also had a hunch that the dry stream bed we were following might just possibly make its way to the Colorado River somehow. Elliot found us and the three of us followed the stream bed for a while.

When we rejoined the main path (whew!) we found a clump of grasses near the bathing area in which there was a certain rustle of movement.... A diamondback rattlesnake!!! My second in two weeks. It was pale desert rock colors, obviously in a diamond pattern. Sort of a desert argyle. But it was less than 3 feet long, and it didn't shake its rattle at us, so it didn't seem very menacing. I am sorry to report that Elliot was somewhat critical of the creature's dovelike nature (he seemed to feel that snakes should be hawks). Fortunately for all of us, it slithered away before he could rattle its cage so to speak. There is no photographic record of this snake, however, so I look forward to hearing Elliot's version of the story in a few years. Hopefully we will just narrowly escape with our lives.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day Two: Poison in Paradise

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We camped near mile 32, with an excellent view of Vasey's Paradise. Despite its name, the waterfall was a relatively unimpressive trickle through the red rocks with verdant growth all around. We were advised that the greenery consisted mostly of poison ivy, which squelched any potential hankering to go over and explore the area.

To the best of my observation and understanding, there was no poison ivy elsewhere on our trip, and certainly none at our campsite. (Thank goodness.)

As always, the ever-changing light interplayed with the water and rocks:

A trail led up to the cliffs overlooking our campsite. Charles and a small group went off to a quiet site for meditation.

View of the rafts and kitchen area from the cliff:

View of the cliff from our dining area:

What you can't see clearly in the above picture are the mule deer on the cliff top. Here are a few closeups; I managed to eke out enough power from my dying batteries to get a few non-zoom shots. You'll see that the one on the right seems to be standing still throughout the proceedings while the other one noses around:

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Day One, part 2: Encampment

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Clouds in the blue sky over canyon walls:

Grace, Esther and I stake out our turf on a private beach (with metaphorical stakes, since we didn't set up tents):

Rocks reflected in a pacific stretch of the Colorado:

Sandra, a former dragon boat racer, and Freddie, from Peru:

Some hustle and bustle by the kitchen area:

Clouds and cliffs catch rays of the setting sun:

Light fades; twilight descends:

How I miss the sleeping under the starry sky.

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Day One, part 1: On the River

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We started early at Lee's Ferry, though not quite as early as the guides and crew, who had already loaded the rafts with provisions for two weeks.

There was a certain amount of milling about as we got our waterproof bags to the rafts.

On the first day, I ended up in a boat with Ben (guide), KG, Kathryn, Grace, Elliot, David. The Navajo Bridge from the water:

The cliffs were quite low here:

The first day involved a lot of gentle floating in the invitingly clear (but very cold) water:

Kathryn and the cliffs:

Grace takes a break - no rapids to keep her awake. (KG on the right.)

At this point, rapid-free, four of us tried jumping overboard. It was cold. I felt immediately like my chest had compressed even tighter than the uncomfortable life jacket and could not breathe. KG had the easiest time launching himself back in the boat; I was the least successful and had to be hauled in every time (I didn't get any better at this as the trip went on, even though the water got warmer).

Here, David makes his first re-entry into the raft:

Elliot climbed in next:

(Not bad, guys!) Full speed ahead....

Oh, no! We've lost one already! (Elliot looks on, unperturbed.)
Sarah's boat slips on through to the other side after enjoying some shade "up close and personal":

David, fashionably sheltered from the sun:

Carrie's boat: Esther, Julie, Helen, Avavit, Joe, and Dave:

Sarah's boat has not quite mastered the "high five", but will have plenty of time to practice:

Note the cave high up in the rock, possibly a granary:
This made me think of castle walls, or rooks:
KJ's boat, with Curt, Stella and others:

Dave, Helen, Joe (back), Avavit, Carrie, Julie:
David, Kurt, Drew:

In sight of camp:
Initial view from our camp site:

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