The 2nd 500 Miles on My 1,000 Mile Trek… From Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney

Highway 395 is one of America’s most scenic drives. This view looking up at Mt. Whitney (center top) is one of the reasons why. I’ll be ending my thousand mile trek here. From the top I will hike down several thousand steep feet to Whitney Portal. Peggy plans on being with me for this section of the trail. The hills in the foreground are the Alabama Hills, the backdrop for many of Hollywood’s early Westerns.

 

The first 100-mile backpack trek I ever led was from Squaw Valley to Auburn in 1974. Considering I had 60 people age 11-70 with me and that I had minimal backpacking experience, it was an insane adventure. Our last 50 miles had involved hiking in and out of river canyons with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees F (37.8 C). As steep as the canyons had been, my learning curve was much steeper! I was lucky the participants didn’t kill me. Fortunately, most of them were eager to go again and I went on to lead long distance adventure treks up and down the Sierras and in Alaska for the next 30 years. I limited the participants to a number that was compatible with my sanity and the environment, stayed at higher/cooler elevations, and required that anyone under 16 be accompanied by an adult guardian.

The second half of my thousand mile backpack trip this summer starts at Donner Summit on old Highway 40, some 12 miles away from Squaw Valley. I once had access to a winter cabin in the area and it wasn’t unusual to have 20 or more feet of snow on the ground. The cabin was warm and cozy. The Donner Party of 1847 wasn’t nearly as fortunate. Caught by bad weather, they were forced to camp out for the winter at Donner Lake, seven miles down the road from the summit. By the time they were rescued, half of the group had perished and the remainder had been forced to turn to cannibalism to survive. I’ll make sure that there is plenty of food in my pack.

My journey from here on will all be in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will pass through a number of wilderness areas plus Yosemite National Park. My last 180 miles will be spent in what is known as the High Sierra, following the John Muir Trail. Here are some ‘eye candy’ photos to introduce you to the beauty of the route.

This photo is from the Granite Chief Wilderness. Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is on the other side of the mountain. The field of yellow flowers is mule ears.

Looking south from Granite Chief, the mountains in the distance are part of Desolation Wilderness, that runs along the west side of Lake Tahoe.

The area is filled with flowers. These are monkey flowers.

And this is a Washington Lily.

Another view of the Desolation Wilderness.

Those who follow my post know I have a weakness for reflection shots. I took this ‘face’ at 4 Q Lakes in the Desolation Wilderness. It’s off the PCT but I may go there for old times’ sake.

I also took this old tree blaze in Desolation Wilderness.

Moving south of Carson Pass, where Kit Carson once ate his dog and his horse, this is part of the Mokelumne Wilderness. The small mountain is known as the Nipple.

One of my favorite hikes on the PCT is between Sonora Pass and Tuolumne Meadows. This is Nancy Pape who may join me for a portion of this year’s journey. As I recall, 1977 was the first year that Nancy trekked with me.

This is a view of Tuolumne River Falls in Yosemite National Park just before Tuolumne Meadows and the beginning of the John Muir Trail.

Some of you have asked if 4.9 ounce Bone will be going on the trek. He was squawking loudly about the possibility of being left behind. I finally conceded, but I told him that it would be a bare-bone journey.

John Muir called the Sierras that he loved to wander through ‘the Range of Light.’

I thought I would add a black and white photo to provide a different perspective on the mountains I will be hiking through. During heavy snow years, which this one isn’t, the passes can be covered with snow and the stream filled with fast flowing water, adding another element of danger to the trip.

This is a view of some of my trekkers making their way over a snow filled pass, carefully. Slipping could have led to a fall of several hundred feet.

In this photo, Peggy makes her way across a fast flowing stream. Water is powerful. It is easy to be swept off your feet. Two through-hikers drowned last year in the southern Sierras.

The incredible beauty of the High Sierra makes the journey worthwhile, however. Always.

Alpenglow lights up a peak.

The view coming down from the John Muir Pass and hiking into Le Conte Canyon. I sprained my ankle once following Peggy as she ‘ran’ down the mountain and ended up hiking 80 miles on it.

Eventually my journey this summer will come to an end as I reach Mt. Whitney. Peggy is pointing out where it is.

This is my 16-year-old nephew Jay Dallen on top of Mt. Whitney. Jay joined me for the last portion of a hike I did from Lake Tahoe to Whitney to celebrate my 60th birthday in 2003. Jay is hoping to join me again this year.

I’ll conclude my preview with this photo looking down from Mt. Whitney.

Peggy and I are out this week backpacking the 40 mile Rogue River Trail. It is both an opportunity to check out our gear and continue our conditioning program. It is also a test to see what kind of sense of humor my 75-year-old body has. Wish me luck! (grin) I’ll respond to comments and check in on your blogs when we return.

FRIDAY’S POST: What factors in your youth led you to choose the path you have chosen to follow in your adult life? I explore some of mine as part of my MisAdventure series.

The First 500 Miles on My Thousand Mile Backpack Trek: Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe

I should see the striking Mt. Shasta several times as I make my way through the Siskiyou’s, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps— and quite likely after I cross Interstate 5.  Mt. Shasta is part of the volcanic Cascade Range that stretches up to Canada.

 

It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty planning of my thousand mile trek from Mt. Ashland in Southern Oregon to Mt. Whitney in California. I’ve been poring over maps, thinking about distances and planning out resupply points. I love maps, so this is a fun activity for me. I think I am being realistic, but you never know. Most through hikers (as people who hike the whole PCT are called) can average around 20-25 miles per day. Maybe even more. That’s a marathon per day! But the 75-year-olds out there are few and far between. I am planning on 12-13. If I can do more, great.

Today, I am going to share the first half of my route, approximately 500 miles, beginning at Mt. Ashland and ending north of Lake Tahoe. While I have backpacked in the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, and Lassen National Park, it is the area I am least familiar with. Once you hit Interstate 80 southward to Mt. Whitney, the second half of my journey, you are in my ‘old stomping grounds,’ so to speak. I’ve hiked through this country many times over the years. Below is a map of the first half of the trail.

This map of the PCT traces my route from Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe. While not as clear as I would like, it provides a good overview. Peggy and I live just north of the trail where it snakes its way along the California/Oregon border. Our property backs up to national forest land.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains provide some of the most beautiful hiking in the world. They are John Muir’s Range of Light. The northern part of my journey lacks the drama of the Sierra’s, but there is still considerable beauty in the Siskiyou’s, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps. Once I cross Interstate 5, I have Burney Falls and Lassen National Park to look forward to. Here are a few photos I have taken over the years to whet your appetite for what is coming.

Another view of Mt. Shasta.

The PCT works around the edge of the Red Buttes Wilderness where Peggy and I have been backpacking the last few years. This small lake is in the wilderness.

As are a number of giant trees such as this sugar pine Peggy is standing next to.

And this large red cedar.

Last year Peggy and I followed what is known as the Cook and Green Trail up to the PCT. We camped under this canopy of trees.

We found three through hikers on the pass. They were quite excited to be nearing the Oregon Border after their long sojourn from the Mexican Border. Most through hikers travel south to north.

We also found a PCT trail marker. They will serve as my guide on the trek.

The trail is well-marked for the most part. Where it isn’t, I’ll be using other guides, like maps and tree blazes.

The Marble’s and the Trinity Alps have numerous pristine lakes such as this.

And mountains. These are part of the Trinity Alps.

There are cascading waterfalls…

And large and small streams to cross— always a challenge for backpackers…

There are lovely flowers to admire, such as this Tiger Lily.

And possibly bears. This tree has been well-marked by bear claws! Peggy and I were in the Marble Mountains a few years back celebrating her birthday with a small cake I had brought along when a bear decided to drop in. Peggy told it in no uncertain terms that it was not invited to the party! Rather than face such a formidable opponent, it remembered some ants it wanted to eat.

Ponderosa Pine tree and Burney Falls in Northern California.

Once across I-5 , I will travel 83 miles to reach Burney Falls. In this photo, a lone Ponderosa Pine grows between the two channels.

Water comes out from layers of rocks as well as over the top at Burney Falls.

The water shooting out from the rocks provides an almost etherial quality to the falls. Peggy will meet me at the falls with resupply. Basically, she will be catching up with me once a week and I will have a layover day to feast, shower, and hopefully put up a post on my previous 6-8 days.

Burney Falls in Northern California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A final view of the falls.

Another week down the trail should bring me to Lassen National Park, one of two parks I will be hiking through. The other is Yosemite. Mt. Lassen looms above the meadow. I’ve climbed to the top of both Lassen and Shasta.

I thought this reflection shot of the mountain was fun.

And this one.

I’ll close today with this view of a stream winding its way through a park meadow.

Next Tuesday, I will take you through the second half of my journey from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney. Peggy and I will be doing our 40 mile conditioning trip down the Rogue River Trail. I should say conditioning plus trial. I’ll be carefully monitoring how my body responds to being back out on the trail with a loaded pack!

FRIDAY’S POST: MisAdventures. It is really hard to be a sports hero when you are as blind as a bat! Especially when it comes to playing hard ball… “Where’d that ball go?” Bonk!

The Raft Trip Through the Grand Canyon… Conclusion, and Happy Earth Day

We were nearing the end of our 18-day journey down the Colorado River and had left the Grand Canyon behind. There were still spectacular views, however.

The river was slowing down, backing up as it approached Lake Mead. The rapids were behind us. We formed a flotilla and leisurely made our way toward take-out. We were ending our 18-day raft trip that had taken us through the Grand Canyon. Today’s photo essay reflects our final three days.

It is Earth Day tomorrow, and few things remind us better than the Grand Canyon that there are beautiful, wild places on earth that deserve our love and protection. I bumped up my normal Monday post to Saturday in honor of those who have fought so hard to save the Grand Canyon— and the earth. Enjoy.

The flotilla of rafts only required gentle corrections. Jame demonstrates just how gentle those corrections were…

And then lines up with several of our women rafters for a photo op.

Our adventures weren’t completely over. A sandbar that had been dry the night before provided an interesting challenge in the morning, as it had the night before for those who had chosen to sleep on the sand bar. (I’d picked a site above the river for Peggy and me. Grin.)

Our journey had been about several things, but certainly the people were central to the experience.

We had a whole cast of characters, including Yours Truly, looking like I had just spent 18-days on the river.

Peggy balances on the end of a raft and assumes a Titanic pose, which is something she likes to do. I have another photo of her like this poised above the piranha infested waters of the Amazon River.

Susan shows off by hoisting a five gallon propane canister! Strong woman, eh. 🙂

And Bone, of course, who found a prickly seat for this photo.

More than anything else, our trip was about rafting through the Grand Canyon. I took this photo of Hance Rapids from the rim after the trip. Each set of rapids was unique, and some were massive. Boatmen live for the challenges these rapids provide and our boatmen proved to be experts at negotiating them.

For me, the journey was more about the incredible beauty and natural history of the Canyon.

The beauty continued even as we approached Lake Mead and our take-out.

The Canyon walls were particularly beautiful in early morning and evening light.

But there was beauty any time of the day, and along every mile we traveled.

The Hualapai Indians provide a different perspective from their Skywalk, which is perched 4000 feet above the river.

And our eyes were always searching for wildlife along the river, such as these Big Horn Sheep.

A final reminder of the beauty along the way…

Eventually all great adventures come to an end. Here we are deflating the rafts that it seemed like we had filled ever-so-long before, literally lying down on the job!

A special thank you to Tom Lovering for organizing and leading our adventure. As you may very well imagine, a great deal of effort and expertise goes into planning a trip like ours. BTW, this may be the only time you ever see Tom with a halo.

And a special thanks to Don Green who so generously allowed me to use some of his excellent photos from along the way.

Bone, whose vest has now been signed by all of the rafters, looks down on Tanner Rapids, which we had made our way through a couple of weeks earlier. In addition to rafting through this section of the river I’ve backpacked into it twice and Peggy has backpacked into it once.

I hope you have enjoyed this trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon along with Peggy, me and our friends. Thanks for joining us! The Canyon is a very special place. And it is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Happy Earth Day!

Curt and Peggy

A Waterfall Made of Rock! …Rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon

As Diamond Peak came into view, I realized that our trip was nearing its end.

I had thought that things couldn’t get much stranger in the world of travertine rock formations as we left Pumpkin Springs behind, but the Colorado River had a few surprises left for us as we neared the end of our 18 day journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

First up was a delightful side canyon we climbed up where we bathed— and showered, in the refreshing water of Travertine Canyon. This was a part of the Hualapai Tribe reservation and the Native Americans had built a convenient rope ladder for access.

A view of the ladder we would be expected to climb. But first we had to rope up to get down to the ladder!

Peggy makes her way up the ladder!

The journey had its rewards!

And everyone took advantage of the shower….

By day 17, we could all use one. (grin)

There were also some interesting rock formations in the cavern.

This close up suggests a throat and tonsils. (Photo by Don Green.)

Not much farther down the river we came on an even stranger travertine formation, a waterfall made of rock!

This 100 foot plus rock waterfall was created by water from a mineral laden spring.

A view or Travertine Falls looking up.

And another. I found the jumble of colors and rock types quite interesting.

Small nooks and crannies also held treasures, such as these ferns. (Photo by Don Green.)

I’ll finish today’s post with a few more photos taken as we rafted down the river.

A mesquite tree.

This rock formation shows the impact of erosion.

A Great Blue Heron that caught Don’s attention. (Photo by Don Green.)

A final view of the river for today. Next Monday, we will wrap up our journey down the Colorado.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Patterns in nature. A close up look at Kodiak Island.

FRIDAY’S POST: Is it possible to find true love when watching an instruction film on what to do when the atom bomb drops on your school.

The Great Pumpkin and Rabbit Ears Made of Romaine… Rafting the Grand Canyon: Part 11

As we passed outside of the Grand Canyon National Park boundary, the Canyon lost some of its grandeur, but just barely.

I wasn’t too surprised when Susan Gishi sported Romaine Lettuce as rabbit ears. In fact, wandering around with my camera, I may have encouraged her. Nor was I surprised when she wielded the cutting knife threateningly. Or when the kitchen crew started head loading the salad containers (not too successfully). Tom ran a tight ship in the kitchen and his mutinous crew responded with humor. After 15 days on the river, his efforts at organization were somewhat analogous to herding cats, or maybe kangaroos. It tended to make him grumpy.

Susan demonstrates how to wear Romaine Lettuce, and the proper way to cut it.

This is the rowdy kitchen crew, Susan, Peggy and Eggin.

Susan demonstrating how to head load.

A convenient ledge provided first row seats to watch the crews shenanigans.

Later, Teresa decided to become a stalker.

While Don Assumed the pose of the thinker. Hopefully, the rope stayed in place.

His shirt makes a ghost appearance.

As we passed outside of the National Park boundary on our trip down the Colorado, the Canyon lost some of its grandeur. But there was still plenty to see. Pumpkin Springs was a good example. It looked like a huge pumpkin. Beth, whose nickname is Pumpkin, was glad to climb up on top of the springs for perspective. The gourd-like structure is another example of a travertine formation created by the lime pumped out by the hot springs. An interesting note is that the spring also has a high concentration of arsenic. Health standards are set at 50 milligrams per liter. The level at Pumpkin Springs has been measured at over 1000! Don’t drink the water! Bone, of course, had to take a sip, but doing anything  he does usually has an inherent risk. I once watched him dive into a pitcher of margaritas at Senior Frogs in Mazatland, Mexico and refuse to come out until a señorita gave him a kiss.

Rock formations continued to entertain us.

Volcanic rocks begin making an appearance, including this large chunk of basalt…

Obsidian…

And columns of basalt. They reflect the way basalt may crack when it cools slowly. The Devil’s Postpile along the John Muir Trail is one of the best examples of this phenomena.

A view of Pumpkin Springs.

Beth provides perspective on the size of the springs.

While Bone gets up close and personal.

Peggy and I both took turns at the oars. Peggy’s was mainly a photo-op but I rowed for a longer period, giving Dave a break. He even encouraged me to try my luck at death-defying rapids (more like a 1 on a scale of 10.) “Point toward the V made by the water and stay in the center,” Dave had advised before going back to sleep.

Peggy takes her turn at rowing…

As do I…

Dave taking a snooze while I row.

This is an example of the small rapids I rowed through.

A final view of the Canyon for today.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Up close and personal with the big brown bears of Kodiak Island.

FRIDAY’S POST: Living on Graveyard Alley— or not. It’s a wrap on the Mekemson Kids Did It.

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Beautiful Havasu Creek and the Infamous Lava Rapids… The Grand Canyon Series: Part 10

Havasu Creek with its travertine colored water.

I had been on Havasu Creek before. Our son, Tony, who was on a break between flying helicopters for the Marines and flying helicopters for the Coast Guard, was flying helicopters for a private company that offered tours over the Grand Canyon and into the small Indian village of Supai. The town, which is located inside the Canyon, sits next to Havasu Creek.

Tony had flown his wife Cammie, Peggy and me into Supai as a treat. He was playing the theme from Star Wars full blast as we dropped over the steep edge of the Canyon and begin our rapid descent! We were greeted by the beautiful blue-green water of Havasu Creek and its interesting travertine structures when we landed  A high concentration of calcium-carbonate is responsible for both the water’s color and the formations. The process of coating objects with lime is fast. Today’s downed limb in the creek may become next month’s travertine sculpture. Peggy and I were eager to see if the creek maintained its unusual color and interesting formations at its mouth where it flowed into the Colorado. As the following photos suggest, we were not disappointed.

The mouth of Havasu Creek is a common stop for rafters in the Grand Canyon. Our rafts look small beside the large commercial tour boat.

We hiked over this from the mouth of the creek.

And were treated to views like these.

 

Don caught this lovely view. (Photo by Don Green.)

And Peggy took this one.

One of the things rafters do for entertainment on Havasu Creek is to damn it up using their rears…

And then, people scramble out of the way, creating a mini-flood! Beth was having a bit of trouble with the scramble part. She was holding onto Bone and didn’t have her hands free.

A pictograph, left behind by ancient Americans, caught the group’s attention. Maybe they used to grow people taller. (grin)

Lava Falls is labeled a 10 in the Grand Canyon’s system of scary, the highest rating given to any rapids along the Colorado. The river drops 37 feet over a few hundred yards and guarantees a quick, gut wrenching ride that seems to last forever and might very well throw you out of the raft. We had been worrying about it even before the trip. It is considered one of the top ten challenging rapids in the world by river runners. Our boatmen parked their rafts above the rapids and carefully scouted a route. We could see a huge, raft-sucking hole in the middle. It seemed that slipping by on the right  seemed the wisest choice. But what did we know. The river was going to do what the river was going to do. Steve agreed to carry us and away we went on our bucking raft… Ride ’em cowboy!

Back on the Colorado River, we headed for our appointment with Lava Falls. Eggin would be attempting the rapids in her kayak.

It was hard to imagine that Lava Falls was just around the bend. But we could hear its roar.

Everyone wanted a good view of the rapids.

They promised a quick but rough ride! Would that hole suck us in and tip over our raft?

With Steve at the oars, Peggy and I enter the infamous Lava Falls on the Colorado River, a perfect ten… that’s 10 as in rapids don’t get any more serious. Shortly after this we disappeared under the water! (Photo by Don Green)

Peggy and I are between the camera and the oars! Luckily we came out with our messy side up. (Photo by Don Green.)

Everybody made it through with the exception of Eggin, who managed to run the rapids upside down in her kayak. One of the boatman shot out to collect her and the kayak. Other than being a bit wet, she was fine. Meanwhile, her uncle, David Stalheim, had pulled over at Tequila Beach and was demonstrating why it was so named. If you manage to survive the rapids, you are expected to celebrate with a shot of tequila. Dave apparently wanted the whole bottle! The party continued after we reached camp…

Don demonstrates how he was feeling after running Lava. It’s possible that the lid was on, but just  maybe. 

Peggy and I just looked happy. We needed a T-shirt that said we survived Lava Falls.

Jonas had decided to celebrate with a little quiet reading in the river…

Bone declared that the trip had scared the pee out of him…

While Beth and Susan decided it was time to Party.

While Tom was just, um, Tom.

I will note that the party continued into the night and the natives were apparently having a heck of a good time!

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: Flying over Kodiak Island. It was green enough to be Ireland before the glaciers started.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: Another in the MisAdventure series. Bob Bray and I are chased by a hobo and my mother chases fire trucks.

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From the Canadian Border to Anchorage… Alaska Highways

Matanuska Glacier is one of the sights along the road from the Canadian/Alaskan Border to Anchorage.

I lived in Alaska for three years between 1983-86. While the organization I was executive director of was in Anchorage, I wandered over much of the state, backpacking in numerous areas including Gates Of the Arctic National Park, kayaking in places like Prince William Sound and cross-country skiing, which included a trek into Denali National Park where we camped out in 30 (34 C) degrees below zero weather. You go to bed with your shoes and a hot water bottle! The beauty and wildness of the state is legendary. Yes, there are insects galore, big bears with sharp teeth, moose, and wolves. But they come with the territory.

Our drive from the Canadian Border to Anchorage was much tamer, but the beauty was there, as you can see from the following photos.

Speaking of wildlife, we spotted this beauty at the King Mountain Lodge. Can wildlife get much wilder?

Bright fields of fireweed contrasted with the darkness of black spruce along the road.

The road continued to wind among almost mystical mountains.

This mountain is part of Wrangle St. Elias National Park, one of the most remote and untamed national parks in the world.

This cache is a bit on the fancy side, more for tourists than keeping out the bears that want to raid your food supplies. But you get the idea.

More mountains…

Glacial rivers are gray from the rock ground off of mountains.

Another view of Matanuska Glacier.

I really liked this view of mountains along the highway.

More mountains. These with a different look.

An appropriately painted house along the route.

The bar at King Mountain Lodge. Road houses were once common along the highway, and necessary to accommodate travelers who couldn’t travel long distances over the rough highways on a given day. Most were quite colorful, and often filled by interesting characters. King Mountain continues to provide an interesting place to stop.

Peggy found this motorcycle inside. The owner, seeing her interest, took her out for a spin.

A photo of Libby Riddles was on the wall. Libby was the first woman to win the Iditarod, the world-famous sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome. And she did it while I was in Anchorage. I called her and asked if she would be spokesperson for my organization. She agreed. I picked her up at the airport where she had just returned from a photo-shoot with Vogue Magazine and we spent a couple of days together as we ran around to all of the local media.

A shot of Libby and me sharing a laugh in the mid-80s.

I found this lovely pond on the edge of the highway.

These are the mountains that backed up to my home in Anchorage. I could be up in them in 30 minutes and would often go on hikes after work. One of my trips was a 25-mile day hike where I came out in this canyon. It included crossing a fairly substantial glacial river where I had to save my hiking companion from being swept away.

I’ll conclude with this sunset. In next Monday’s post I will take you off to the island of Kodiak for  a visit with brown bears!

FRIDAY’S POST: The Mekemson kids are at it again and a railroad detective shows up at out house to accuse my brother of dark deeds, which fortunately, he didn’t do.

MONDAY’S POST: We continue our 18 day trip by raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

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A Strange Cave Creature… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 10

Peggy Mekemson at Deer Creek Falls in Grand Canyon

Peggy standing next to Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon.

 

“It is especially cold in the rain tonight. The little canvas we have is rotten and useless; the rubber ponchos have all been lost; we have not a blanket apiece. We build a fire; but the rain, coming down in torrents, extinguishes it, and we sit up all night on the rocks, shivering…” From the diary of the one-armed John Wesley Powell on the night of August 17, 1869 during his epic exploration of the Grand Canyon.

 

Well, there are ADVENTURES and there are adventures. Today I will focus on our 8th, 9th and 10th days on the Colorado River. There are rapids, but nothing to write home about. In camp, the fabled heat of the Grand Canyon makes an appearance, so we put up a sun shelter and snooze. It’s a bit of a climb up to Christmas Tree Cave, maybe 10 minutes. We do, however find a very strange creature there, something that might give you nightmares. We stop to admire Deer Creek Falls and then climb up the Deer Creek Canyon, which is much more of a climb than it was to the cave, but a natural Jacuzzi greets us at the top. The water is cold. Things are tough, right? As I said, there are ADVENTURES and then there are adventures. (Grin.) I let photos tell today’s story.

We do run into rapids every few miles, but mainly the water is calm and beautiful. (Photo by Don Green.)

Rowing is a given, lots of it, but unless we are rowing against the wind or maneuvering through rapids, the river does much of the work.

Don caught this interesting face along the way. (Photo by Don Green.)

Take a cold beer or two, add in a warm sun, comfy chairs, and shade, it’s time for a snooze.

With the trip half over, it’s time to check in on how we are faring. This is me…

And this is Peggy. I can only wonder how she does it.

Our camp that evening…

And in the early morning light.

Looking up at the entrance to Christmas Tree cave. The name derives from a crystalline structure that looks something like a Christmas tree.

Okay, imagine you are alone and making your way through a large, semi-dark cave when you suddenly come face to face with this cave troll. The Christmas Tree, BTW, is to the right of Tom.

I really like the perspective on the size of the cave in this photo that Peggy took.

Deer Creek Falls was a treat. Hiking up the Deer Creek trail provided more delights.

Like the natural Jacuzzi.

It was a tad cold.

Bone was probably the least bothered by the cold of any of us. Maybe it was his warm vest. Tom and Don make a hand off. Bone wanted to leap off on his own but we were afraid that the creek might carry him away!

Deer Creek had cut its way into the soft sandstone, creating a min-Grand Canyon of its own.

Which led Peggy and me to take numerous photos.

Waterfalls along Deer Creek.

And another opportunity to rest. Check out the shade on the left.

Our final photo of the day. Looking down on the Colorado River from the Deer Creek trail.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We arrive in Alaska on the Alaska Highway. Now we will be making our way from the Canadian Border to Anchorage. Be prepared for glaciers!

FRIDAY’S POST: The MisAdventure series. The railroad detective comes to visit. Were the Mekemson kids guilty of tearing apart a railroad trestle? Tune in on Friday.

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We Visit Phantom Ranch, I jump Off a Cliff, and Tom Wears Bone… Rafting through the Grand Canyon

Sunset at Zoroaster Campsite on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Don Green.)

 

Having left Tanner Rapids and my encounter with Mousy at mile 69, we continued on down the Colorado River to Zoroaster Camp at Mile 84.5. The dark inner walls of the Canyon signified we had traveled back a billion years in geological time, back to the very beginnings of life on earth. A rousing game of Bocce Ball served as entertainment in camp that evening.

Whose ball is closest? A game of Bocce Ball entertained our rafters…

And I took care of my groover duty, which is far from being groovy and gives a whole new meaning to port-a-pot. (Photo by Don Green.)

Tom’s objective in camping at Zoroaster had been to put us close to Phantom Ranch, which was located at Mile 88 on our 18-day, 280-mile trip down the Colorado. Built in the 1920s, the facility provides the only lodging beneath the rim in the Grand Canyon. There are three ways to get there: on foot, by mule or by raft. I’d backpacked down twice, once from the North Rim of the Canyon and once from the South. Now I would visit by raft. The Ranch also provides one of the few opportunities along the river for rafters to leave and join trips. Nancy Pape would be leaving and Jonas Minton joining us. I’d known both since the 70s.

A mule welcomed us to Phantom Ranch…

And gave me the eye. I know folks who would kill for those eyelashes.

Don welcomed us well…

As did this bright flower with its bee on a beaver tail cactus.

I took this photo looking up from the ranch.

Nancy Pape, who pretty much spends her life hopping in and out of places, hiked out to the South Rim. I’ve known Nancy since the 70s when she first went with me on one of my hundred mile backpacking trips.

Jonas was supposed to be there early, according to Tom’s plan. We had miles to go before we were to sleep, to paraphrase Robert Frost. But another poet interfered. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” Robert Burns had declared. That had certainly been the case for Mousy who had had no intention of ending up as dinner on the edge of my sleeping pad at Tanner Rapids. And so it was for us.

Jonas had hiked down from the South Rim that morning, traveling some 9 miles and dropping 4600 feet. It was early afternoon when he arrived, exhausted. Like me, he is no youngster. He needed a nap. Tom insisted we make up for lost time, however, and away we went. Peggy and I agreed to ride with Jonas. We immediately found ourselves between a large rock and the shore with no room to maneuver— a situation we barely escaped only to careen across the river and bounce up against the wall. The raft climbed up to its tipping point, like it was eager to escape the river and us. I knew we were going over and could feel the icy waters sucking me under. But we didn’t. Jonas had both experience and adrenaline to counter his exhaustion. The raft kept its messy side up and we avoided a dunking.

Jonas and I had worked on environmental issues in Sacramento during the 70s.

Afterwards, Jonas and the raft agreed to cooperate with each other and we made it into camp without any more challenges. That was the night that Tom decided to wear Bone in his hair. I am not sure whether he was trying to appease or irritate the Canyon gods. Bone, who is quite used to strange encounters, told me later that they don’t get any stranger!

Susan Gishi gives Tom a ‘do.’

And Bone is added as an accessory. “At least,” Bone was heard to say,” Tom didn’t try to turn me into a nose decoration!.

Dinner was good that night…

And the sunset was fabulous. Or maybe the Canyon gods were commenting on Tom’s hairdo.

The next couple of days found us hiking through fast-moving water over slick rocks, maneuvering through one of the Canyon’s most challenging water falls, and jumping off a 20-foot cliff.

Shinumo Creek often provides a lovely wade up to a beautiful falls, hiding on the left.

This time the creek was flowing so fast, we had to help each other to avoid being washed off our feet.

Steve is scouting what I think was Crystal Rapids. He seems to be suggesting we go back the way we came!

Later, we watched one of the commercial raft trips make its way through the rapids. We were on two very different types of trips.

“You have to hike up to these beautiful falls,” Tom urged and off we went on another adventure through a huge boulder field. I’d say we were rock hopping but the rocks were a little big to hop.

The waterfalls were indeed worth it, but I didn’t realize we were expected to jump off!

Jame Wilson provided one approach… (Photo by Don Green.)

And Theresa another…

Let me report that the water was cold. That’s it for the day. I will continue our trip down the Colorado next Monday.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Traveling through the Yukon Territory on the Alaska Highway.

FRIDAY’S POST: Another in the MisAdventure Series: Who shot Tony Pavy’s Pig?

 

There Is More than One Way to Skin a Mouse… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 8

I took this photo just below the Tanner Rapids, which are seven miles below where we played in the Little Colorado River. While it looks similar to many other Grand Canyon photos included in this series, I was eager to get it. I had camped here once after backpacking down the Tanner Trail. My campsite was to the right of the small tree. Mousy had a nest under the tree…

 

I’ve just returned from playing for a week while celebrating my 75th birthday. So, I am a bit behind on writing posts and keeping up with comments and fellow bloggers. My apologies. It isn’t going to get much better. (grin) On Wednesday, Peggy and I fly back east to visit with our son and his family in Connecticut. We return from there just in time to fly to North Carolina and see our daughter and her family. After that, we will spend a month exploring several national parks in the southwest on foot.

Then it will be time for another Grand Adventure. I intend to walk out my backdoor in Southern Oregon and backpack 1000 miles to Mt. Whitney in California following the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails. It’s a journey not many people make— especially 75-year-olds. “And what did you do this summer, Grandpa?” Going, of course, will depend on my doctor saying “Why not?” I hope to gain a book contract to write about the trip. Wish me luck on that one. I will be blogging much more about the trek in posts leading up to the adventure.

Since I played last week, I pulled up a previous post that is definitely relevant to the raft trip Peggy and I made down the Colorado with Tom and several other friends. When I left Alaska in 1986 and returned to California, I spent several months backpacking in the west. My first trip was into the Grand Canyon, a decision my body was not happy with! I had just spent the winter holed up in the Far North happily stuffing myself and drinking more beer than I should have…

 

Looking down from Lipan Point at the start of the Tanner Trail. Then sharp bend in the Colorado River... far away, is where I am heading. (The photos of the trail down I actually took several years later when I backpacked down with Peggy.)

Looking down into the Grand Canyon at the start of the Tanner Trail.  The curve you can see in the Colorado River is the Tanner Rapids, which is where we will be on our next section of our raft trip down the Colorado. Years before I rafted the Canyon I backpacked into it several times. Two of my trips were by the Tanner Trail, once by myself and once with Peggy.

“It’s not too late to make another decision,” my body told my mind as I hoisted my 60-pound pack and eyed the distant Colorado River. “There is a fine lodge with great food and even better beer 30 minutes away. It provides a fantastic view of the Grand Canyon. Much better than anything you will see on the insane hike.” “Shut up and walk,” my mind replied.

Tanner Trail dropped away under my feet as I made my first steps down the steep, poorly maintained path and descended through millions of years of earth history. About a half of a mile down, the trail disappeared, having been washed away by winter rains. “I told you so,” my body whispered loudly as I mentally and physically hugged the side of the Canyon and tentatively made my way around the washout with its thousand foot drop.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another non-maintained Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park Service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Steep drop offs are a common factor in all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

Steep drop offs are a common factor with all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

I am not sure when my legs started shaking. Given the stair-step nature of the trail and the weight on my back, not to mention an extra 20 pounds of winter fat, my downhill muscles were not having a lot of fun. Fortunately, Mother Nature provided a reprieve. The erosive forces of wind and water that have sculpted the mesas and canyon lands of the Southwest are less challenged by some types of rocks than others.

Somewhere between two and three miles down I came upon the gentle lower slopes of the Escalante and Cardenas Buttes, which allowed me to lollygag along and enjoy the scenery. I escaped from the sun beneath the shadow of a large rock, drank some of my precious water, nibbled on trail food, and took a brief nap. It would have made a good place to camp. Others had obviously taken advantage of the shade and flat surface, but the Colorado River was calling.

Ignoring the screams of my disgruntled body parts, I headed on. At mile five or so my idyllic stroll came to a dramatic halt as the trail dropped out of sight down what is known as the Red Wall. (It received this imaginative name because it is red and looks like a wall.) Some fifty million years, or 625,000 Curtis life spans, of shallow seas had patiently worked to deposit the lime that makes up its 500-foot sheer cliff. It is one of the most distinctive features of the Grand Canyon.

My trail guide recommended I store water before heading down so I could retrieve it when I was dying of thirst on the way out. I could see where people had scratched out exposed campsites here as an excuse to stop for the night. The accommodations weren’t much but the view was spectacular.

The rest of the five-mile/five month journey was something of a blur. (It was closer to five hours but time was moving very slowly.) I do remember a blooming prickly pear cactus. I grumbled at it for looking so cheerful. I also remember a long, gravelly slope toward the bottom. My downhill muscles had totally given out and the only way I could get down was to sidestep. I cackled insanely when I finally reached the bottom.

As tired as I was, I enjoyed the beauty of the inner Canyon.

I was so tired, I could hardly enjoy the beauty of the inner Canyon. (These photos are from a later trip I took down with Peggy. I waited until after she said “I do” before introducing her to the Tanner Trail. Otherwise she might have said “I don’t.”)

I smiled at the Prickly Pear Flowers on my way out of the Canyon that I had growled at coming in.

I growled at a prickly pear for looking so cheerful.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower, about a mile away from the Tanner trailhead. You can see the trail on the right.

Setting up camp that night was simple. I threw out my ground cloth, Thermarest mattress, and sleeping bag on a sandy beach. Then I stumbled down to the river’s edge and retrieved a bucket of brown Colorado River water that appeared to be two parts liquid and one part mud. I could have waited for the mud to settle but used up a year of my water filter’s life to provide an instant two quarts of potable water.

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip down the Tanner Trail.

All I had left to do was take care of my food. Since people camped here frequently, four-legged critters looked on backpackers as a major source of meals. I could almost here them yelling, “Dinnertime!” when I stumbled into sight. Not seeing a convenient limb to hang my food from, i.e. something I wouldn’t have to move more than 10 feet to find, I buried my food bag in the sand next to me. Theoretically, anything digging it up would wake me. Just the top was peeking out so I could find it in the morning.

As the sun went down, so did I. Faster than I could fall asleep, I heard myself snoring. I was brought back to full consciousness by the pitter-patter of tiny feet crossing over the top of me. A mouse was worrying the top of my food bag and going for the peanuts I had placed there to cover my more serious food.

“Hey Mousy,” I yelled, “Get away from my food!” My small companion of the night dashed back over me as if I were no more than a noisy obstacle between dinner and home. I was drifting off again when I once more felt the little feet. “The hell with it,” I thought in my semi-comatose state. How many peanuts could the mouse eat anyway?

The river water I had consumed the night before pulled me from my sleep. Predawn light bathed the Canyon in a gentle glow. I lay in my sleeping bag for several minutes and admired the vastness and beauty of my temporary home. The Canyon rim, my truck and the hoards of tourists were far away, existing in another world. My thoughts turned to my visitor of the previous evening.

I finished my last blog with a picture of the view across the Colorado River from my camp near Tanner Rapids. This and the photo below demonstrate how much colors change depending on the time of day.

The early morning view from my camp site near Tanner Rapids on the Colorado River.

Out of curiosity, I reached over for my food and extracted the bag of peanuts. A neat little hole had been chewed through the plastic but it appeared that most of my peanuts were present and accounted for. My small contribution had been well worth my solid sleep. I then looked over to the right to see if I could spot where the mouse had carried its treasure. Something on the edge of my ground cloth caught my eye. It was three inches long, grey, round and fuzzy.

It was Mousy’s tail!

Something had sat on the edge of my sleeping bag during the night and dined on peanut stuffed mouse. Thoughts of a coyote, or worse, using my ground cloth as a dinner table sent a shiver down my spine. I ate a peanut in honor of Mousy’s memory and threw a few over near his house in case he had left behind a family to feed. I also figured that the peanuts would serve as an offering to whatever Canyon spirits had sent the night predator on its way.

Then it was time to find a bush, cook up my morning gruel, and plan my day’s backpack trip up to the Little Colorado River. But my legs had another idea. They refused to move. I backpacked for about a hundred feet, set up camp in a small cave, and spent my day recovering while watching rafters yell their way through Tanner Rapids. I wondered what it might be like to raft down the Canyon…

Next Monday’s Post: I return to our raft trip down the Colorado.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Driving on the Alaska Highway through the Yukon!

FRIDAY’S POST: It’s back to MisAdventures. It was almost a mantra in Diamond Springs where I grew up: If there was mischief in the town, the Mekemson Kids Did It.

 

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