GRAND CANYON, ZION, and YOSEMITE
February - March 2011
Last year's adventure to the Canyon was photographically disappointing due to my choice to be down in the bottom, where there was literally no light most of the time. This year, I decided to stay more or less on the rim. It was a good decision. For the first three days I hiked the rim trail, covering all perspectives at different times of the day. There was an annoying haze which was probably just moisture in the air, but does make for boring photographs. A descent down the South Kaibab trail one day was a great workout. It also reminded me how humbling it is to be down inside the geology of this place.
With each visit, I come away with more pearls burned into my brain, of the geologic history of the region. The Kaibab Plateau is a large area that was uplifted several thousand feet, then the Colorado River began carving the canyon about 6 million years ago. Before the uplift and erosion of the Canyon, nearly TWO VERTICAL MILES of material had first been washed away, busted up and carried off to become new rock somewhere else. All of the geology to the north, into Utah, was on top of the Grand Canyon before the "current" erosion began. The Vermillion Cliffs were on top, as were the White Cliffs, the Gray Cliffs of Zion, and the Pink Cliffs that are exposed in Bryce. Amazing.
On the fourth day, there was a huge storm that dropped a foot of snow on the rim, and roughly 1500' down also. As the clouds were parting a day later, I was able to make a few exposures and could barely contain my excitement. But, too, there were camera hassles that truncated the day. It was about 5 degrees, and the shutter on the Hasselblad kept locking up. Now I know that, every couple years or so, it needs to be taken apart, cleaned, and lubed. This is how we learn ! Oh well. There were still some great images of that day, and of sunrise light a day later.
For the last day in the Canyon, I did a very rewarding hike, down the Bright Angel trail, across the Tonto trail, then up the South Kaibab back to the rim. Then, on to Zion. Climbed up to Observation Point and spent the entire day. Lots of exposures of the canyon below, but not the kind of light that is needed for this perspective. It was another of my learning experiences. Next day I visited a place in the Kolob Canyon area that I had been before. This was only a 5-mile event, but due to deep untracked snow, it was also 5 miles of post-holing virtually every step. Snowshoes would not have been really helpful, as there were dozens of stream crossings on the route. The light in this area is truly astounding. There is a face, about 2000' high, of red rock that is always glowing. It seems that the adjacent faces are reflecting their light onto this one, and it's quite memorable.
Yosemite valley was delightful, as always. Deep and melting snow on the valley floor made long hikes unattractive, but I had good light one morning and evening, so managed to burn several rolls of film.
I left August empty of art shows on purpose, with the intent of going somewhere I’d not yet been. For a lot of years, people have been raving to me about the Canadian Rockies, and the national parks in particular. They are so close, and I figured to control costs by car-camping, and backpacking. In Jasper at the park HQ I found two very helpful rangers who got me all set up for my wilderness adventure three days hence, and made suggestions for day-hikes to toughen up. I asked the young woman who booked my wilderness campsites if she had ever done this particular loop. She said “Yes, and you have chosen a very good one”. That tickled me.
One of the rangers suggested an unmarked trail for a day-hike, up to a place called Verdant Pass. It was a long, tough climb, and well worth the effort. This trail is not on any map, and he had given me good instructions how to find it. There’s nothing better than being above timberline on a high pass in the mountains, by yourself. On the third day, I wanted to be closer to my trailhead, which was actually just over the boundary in Banff. This puts me at the Columbia Icefield, which I had always wanted to see. This huge glacier contributes a ton of water to the young Columbia River, but is not actually its source. That is a high pass farther to the south. What I could see of the icefield was actually just its exposed edge, and it appeared to be 75 to 100 feet thick. Guessing, of course, as it was a couple thousand feet above me. It sits on the continental divide, and slopes to the west. I was on the east side, on the Athabasca River side. Its source was plainly visible right before me, in the form of six glaciers of varying sizes. This river flows north from here, draining most of Alberta, much of the Northwest Territories, and eventually flows into the Arctic Sea.
For today’s hike, I head up to Wilcox Pass, one that had been recommended in a book. Everything here is just so huge. This pass, for example, and two of the passes on my wilderness loop, are four and five kilometers long ! This one got me up about 1000’ paralleling the edge of the Icefield, and getting closer to those six Athabasca glaciers. On the way up, I met Jim and Jeannie from North Carolina. The more we talked, the more we found to talk about, and we spent the entire day together. These two are in their mid-seventies, and were climbing circles around me. Really annoying old geezers. Jim is a retired Forest Service professional, and Jeannie knows more about wildflowers than anyone ought to. They have visited the Canadian Rockies in 13 of the past 16 years.
At my little car camp that evening, the big task is to prepare for the six-day, 50-mile loop that begins in the morning. Had to make six PB & J’s, as well as decanter a litre of wine, fill my water jug, bag up some glorp, etc. I find peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to be the perfect lunch, sometimes breakfast, on backpacking trips. And a little cup of vino with the freeze-dried gourmet dinner is just the perfect thing while sitting in the middle of nowhere swattin’ skeeters.
The first day was a total fiasco. As I buckled the huge pack on my back and staggered a few steps away from the car, I said “What in hell are you thinking”. As the days unfolded, and I got more and more sore, one of the things I determined to do was weigh each element, each item, every little thing in this pack when I got home. That which had been consumed would be replicated. Well, I did that, and the total was 78 pounds !! That’s just ridiculous. A geologist I met in camp on the third day said his pack weighed 35 pounds when he started, and today he says, it probably weighs 28 or so. He said that “The reading book must be only ½” thick, and the one I brought this time was so boring that I burned it last night”. My book was huge, and weighed a pound-and-a-half. Of course, 17 of my pounds is camera gear, but still, there is a lot that will get tossed next time.
Anyhow, that was the first thing. Then right away there was a junction, with a huge sign indicating what was down this way. Well, none of those places were part of my loop. The first day’s 8 miles was on a different topo map, one I had elected not to purchase. Big mistake. So I did not take that turn to the right, but stayed on this gravel road that went on for a couple miles, finally ending in a horse camp with a cabin. I saw a sign nailed to a tree which had the name of my pass on it, so I felt vindicated. Meandered along this trail through the woods paralleling Nigel Creek, toward Nigel Pass for a couple more miles, then it dropped down to the creek and disappeared. Swell. No trace of the route, on either side of the creek. I see people occasionally way off in the distance, bounding along with enthusiasm. So I un-boot, find a big stick, and cross the creek. Then about a quarter mile of nasty bushwhacking, and I find the trail. I haven’t even really begun the climb up the pass yet, and already I’m plumb tuckered.
Up onto Nigel Pass, long lunch break, nice visit with a young German couple who had made the climb with their newborn. Then a tough stream crossing, and the descent along the source of the Brazeau River. My first camp is a couple miles down the river. This is really a gorgeous place. One of the first visions from the pass is this huge area of quiet waters, with reeds and very green grasses, and the water was blue with shades of green where the glacier flour was thickest.
First night I had the camp area to myself. It remains true, as crowded as the parks are, if you walk five miles, you will leave 97% of them behind. And, the ones you do meet are there for the same reasons you are. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone in the wilderness who was annoying. Well, except for Jim and Jeannie. Started the next day with a bath in the river. It wasn’t terribly cold, and was so needed. Whenever I think, this may be too cold for a bath, I remember my summer in Europe, bathing in a stream on top of a pass in Switzerland, gazing at the glacier from whence the stream emerged. Now, that was a cold bath. All the others pale by comparison.
Today was 10 miles, most of it a gentle downstream along the Brazeau, then a climb up the Northwest Fork to Brazeau Lake. The lake is gorgeous. Nearly five miles long, a glacier carved valley, and full of native trout. The camp area is right at the outlet, which flows a couple miles down to the Brazeau. There is a pair of brothers there already, formerly of Quebec, now of BC. They haven’t seen anyone for a day-and-a half, as I have not. Their route on the same loop is going the other direction.
A couple days ago they saw the resident grizzly on Jonas Pass, where I will make camp a couple days hence. They were also treated to a small herd of goats, and one of the brothers told of a photograph he made with two perfect grizzly prints, and a wolf print right next to them. Cool, I say, can you show me ? Of course, everyone except me is using a digital camera these days, so he scrolled thru the gazillion photos he had made, and there they were. Perfect prints in soft mud, good shadow definition. Wolf print very large, and a couple feet away from the grizz prints. I immediately assume that these two are pals, these two are playmates. After the polar bear and huskie videos of a while ago, and my experience in the Brooks range, with a wolf and a grizz doing a strange dance at eight in the morning, I’m sure these guys are mates. There is no reason on earth for either to be tracking the other.
The weather forecast for this period is excellent, and there is not a cloud in the sky all evening. Neither the brothers nor I put our rain-flys on the tent. So, when around midnight or so, I’m awaken by the sky exploding with light, I do consider rousting them to put on their fly. Trouble is, I can see all of the stars ! There is still not a cloud in the sky. The more I look at this strange light show, the more confused I get. Constant flashes, some more intense and brilliant than others, but it rarely stops for even a few seconds. Is this the northern lights ? Too much frenzy for that, yet where is the thunder, where are the clouds ? Next morning one of the brothers says he got up and walked away for a better perspective. It was lightning, and the woods of northern BC had been already on fire for the past several weeks. This of course, made it much worse. For the rest of the trip, I can see pretty much nothing but smoke. Mountains rising thousands of feet above my valley, hanging glaciers everywhere, and I can see no detail at all.
Day 3 was a long pretty climb up John John Creek, to Poboktan Pass, and down again to Jonas Cutoff. About 10 miles, and very gorgeous, especially on the pass. One of the first things I see on Poboktan is about six little prairie dogs standing at attention, looking at me, their little hands clutching their abdomens. I stop, and engage them in conversation. You know, I say, there is a grizzly bear in the area, and you people should probly be a lot less visible, and not be making quite so much noise. I take another step, and they all disappear into their maze of tunnels. Past their mound, I stop and look back, knowing somebody will get curious pretty soon. Sure enough, “Yeah, I thought it would be you. If I were that grizzly, you would be toast by now”. There were hundreds of further encounters with squealling prairie dogs, but that one was the best. I really enjoyed Poboktan Pass. Got into camp at about 5:pm, and there was a party of three guys from Chicago already there. They were going the other direction also. I did some photographing along the creek this evening, and the next morning.
By now my body is getting very sore. Shoulders are screaming with protest, feet are beginning to whine, and raw meat is happening on my hips. Whenever I bend over to provide some relief for the shoulders, which I do often, my shirt rides up, my shorts go down, and there they stay. Now I have six inches of Cordura on the hip pad rubbing on bare skin. That became a real slice of heaven. So, even though it is very illegal, I make an executive decision to camp on Jonas Pass this evening. This next leg is twelve miles, and I just don’t want to do it all today. Got a late start up a 2000’ climb to Jonas Shoulder, the highest point of the loop at 8000’. It was a tough morning, made the more so by the Canadians’ dislike of switchbacks. If the direction we need to go is up, then let’s go up ! At Jonas Shoulder, I did see a genuine slice of heaven. The pass was about a thousand feet below me, and above it was a range of mountains rising three or four thousand feet, with at least ten hanging glaciers. I could see the headwaters of Jonas Creek, which flowed off to the west, to my right. Of course, this view was totally smoky, and thus not really photographable. Didn’t matter.
About halfway down, I meet my one and only human of the day. He is literally high-stepping up this steep slope. Fritz is from Dresden, and is in his mid-twenties, I think. He is on a grand adventure of two months, and most of it to be spent here in the Rockies, then some time on Vancouver Island. We talk a bit about Dresden, me saying that it is surely a modern city like Berlin now, given that it was leveled during the war. He says, no, not totally. There is a part of town north of the Elbe that was not burned up. That was the former new section of the city, now being Old Town. He asks about my huge pack, and I say, I don’t know how much it weighs, but it’s killing me. We talk about bear mace, as he was convinced to throw his away by a ranger. Bad idea, I say. Yes, it can backfire, and wind direction is crucial. But it can make the difference between life and death at the final moment of a bad bear encounter. He’s on a 10-day trip from Hiway 11 to the town of Jasper. How will you get back to your car ? , I ask. Don’t have one, he says. I just stick my thumb out.
Continued my descent to the pass proper, and it went on for a good five kilometers. Just the most stunning scenery. As I get farther to the east, the creeks flowing west become smaller and smaller. I choose one good place to make camp, and it turns out to be the last water going in that direction, really the source of Jonas Creek. My camp was adjacent to a prairie dog colony, and they were gracious hosts. Being aware that the brothers formerly of Quebec had seen the grizzly here, I am very observant and careful with sending out cooking odors. Never saw him, or her. My critter encounters on this trip were somewhat underwhelming: two sets of woodland caribou antlers, several piles of elk scat, a few old grizzly prints, some grizzly scat, several wolf prints, two grizzly digs, many small marmots, hundreds of prairie dogs, and two ptarmigan hens.
Day five was a relaxing descent off Jonas Pass, along Four Point Creek, and back to the Brazeau River. I took the pack off many times and made photographs of water and flowers crashing down the slopes beside me. It was an enjoyable day, and once again, no one in the camp area next to Boulder Creek. Day six was a long eight miles up the Brazeau, up Nigel Pass, and down the creek back to the car.
This area is just huge. It would take several lifetimes to explore it well. This was just a start.
GRAND CANYON and ZION in WINTER
It has become a pattern of behavior for me to avoid National Parks during peak seasons. They are so crowded now, and people in large numbers are so vexing when a wilderness experience is desired. Portland can be a bit of a dreary place in January, so I made a few calls to ascertain whether there was room for me at Phantom Ranch. There was not, so permits for camping were obtained, and off I went. There were a fair number of people on the trails, and at the bottom, but it was definitely not crowded. In three days of hiking from my camp on Bright Angel Creek, I saw only a handful of others. It was certainly a peaceful and solitary adventure.
Lots of work, though, too. It's ten miles down the Bright Angel trail, and the last two are flat along the river. That equates to almost 1000' of elevation loss per mile. My quads were feeling it. The first couple miles were icy and treacherous, and after that, just steep. Most of this route is inside a deep bowl, and views of the surrounding terrain are cropped by its depth. When I came out several days later, I used the South Kaibab trail .. shorter by almost four miles, way more steep, but also on top of the ridges the entire route up. The views were mind-boggling.
From the South Rim the canyon is enormous; I think they say it's about six air miles across, maybe ten at the widest point. For some reason, seeing its vastness from the top had an effect on me that was not so huge as walking its vertical walls. Likewise, experiencing it from river-level as I did several years ago was not nearly as moving as the placing of my feet on each of the layers of sandstone, shale, limestone and schist. This was like walking into the bowels of the earth, seeing its geologic history laid at my feet, one layer at a time. In this area of the Canyon, the exposed Vishnu schist at the bottom is among the oldest exposed rock on earth, nearly half as old as the earth itself. The first layer of sediments, the Tapeats Sandstone, is roughly 1.5 billion years younger. That interface represents a billion and a half years of missing geology ! On and on it goes: bands of purple, pink, yellow, orange, and blue. Of course, the huge void that is the Canyon itself represents material that has been ground up and carried to the ocean by the river, where it is making new layers of rock as we speak. I have read that the Colorado carries away nearly 400,000 TONS of silt every DAY !
This was a cold journey, made all the more so because I forgot to take a hat. Do not forget your hat. In January, of course, the sun is low on the southern horizon, and the big ditch is 5000 feet deep, so there was never any sunlight except near the top. One of the rangers told me that the California Condors, who I had encountered on my trip down the river, have been leaving the Canyon in winter to go hang out near Zion. Seems they have discovered the flocks of sheep in the area, and of course, not all lambs survive their first winter. I had only one day for Zion this trip, and chose a trail that was new to me: up to Hidden Canyon and most of the way up to Observation Point. My start was late, so I have to return to see this perspective from the top. I saw enough to motivate me to do that.
FOUR CORNERS ... Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Capitol Reef, and the Escalante
September - October 2009
This was a somewhat fragmented adventure, spread among three weeks before and after art events in Albuquerque, Dallas, and Sedona. I had never been to Chaco Canyon before, nor Mesa Verde. Both of these places, as well as the hundreds of other sites in the Southwest, contain amazing cultural and architectural history of the Pueblo civilization which was thriving here on a roughly parallel level to civilizations in Asia and Europe, about 1000 years ago. The volume of new information and new theories formed by archeologists and historians, just since my anthropology study in college, is huge. Among the issues that I grew up with, and has since been met with disfavor, is the notion that the cliff dwellings were primarily defensive, and the "Anasazai" disappeared due to aggression from neighbors, most likely the Navajo. Not true, it turns out, and the actual matter makes a much better story.
The cliff dwellings were chosen most likely for the shelter the overhangs provided, and for water sources. Springs are still very active at each of the major sites, and in fact, the conservators of the sites actually pipe the water away from the dwellings to prevent damage from erosion. Virtually all of the Great Houses of Chaco culture, and the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde and Chinle were abandoned by 1250 to 1300. The Navajo did not show up in the Southwest until over 200 years later. The migration to the east and south, near the Rio Grande River, was likely due to several severe drought years, and a fair dose of soil depletion due to destructive farming practices. Archeologists have identified a population explosion near the Rio Grande at the same time the great communities farther west and north were abandoned. The "Anasazai" peoples became the tribes we currently know as Pueblo, Zuni, Hopi, and other smaller groups. The Navajo are direct descendants of the Athabascans of Alaska and coastal Canada. They are not related directly nor recently to the Pueblo peoples.
An impressive network of engineered roadways have recently been discovered from aerial photographs, linking Chaco Canyon, the apparent cultural center, to the dozens of other great houses in the four cardinal directions. The archeological sites outside the canyon are scattered throughout NW New Mexico, and SW Colorado. Within the canyon there are about a dozen great houses that have been partially excavated, and there are dozens more that have been left undisturbed. Over two visits to the canyon, I hiked all of the trails and visited the excavated ruins. It was a very moving experience.
Mesa Verde in SW Colorado is similar culturally to Chaco, but quite different architecturally. Here, Pueblo people chose overhangs among the sandstone cliffs to provide shelter, and built their communities underneath. Agriculture was done on the mesas above. The timeline of the habitation and migration away is approximately the same as for Chaco, and the hundreds of other Pueblo communities found throughout the Four Corners region.
At the end of these three art events, after Sedona, I visited the Escalante Canyons in southern Utah. On prior visits to the region, I had inquired among Park Service folks what the road was like that goes from Big Water, over the Kaiparowits Plateau, to the little town of Escalante. Their response was always, "Don't do it ! Go around, use the highway". And, previously, I always had taken their advice. This time, I rented one of those high-clearance big four-wheel drive vehicles, and decided to tackle this road. Count this among the many things in life which I do not need to do again. It's about 90 miles long, steep, rocky, sometimes washed out, and often frightening. It took me nearly six hours to negotiate it. Anyhow, hiking in the Escalante canyons was the objective, and I did several memorable ones. Deer Creek was the first, then down to Upper Calf Creek Falls and up the Escalante River, and another day, down Hole-in-the-Rock road to hike Willow Gulch, then on the final day, down the River from near town for several miles.
The canyons of this region, at least the ones I've seen so far, are deep and very wide. As a consequence, there are a lot of sand and soil deposits, and a lot of brush. The width makes the light a little less interesting to me, than say, the canyons of Zion, which are narrow and much deeper. And way less brushy. So, on this trip, no photographs of the Escalante. I did, however, make one in Chaco which I am very pleased with.
NEPAL and LO MANTHANG
September - October 2006
After spending a couple days in Kathmandu doing tourist things in this crowded and very polluted city, we flew to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal, for one night, then to Jomosom over a pass between the Annapurna and the Dualagiri ranges. As we crossed the pass, the terrain below changed immediately from green to brown and arid. The region is part of the Tibetan plateau, on the ancient Salt route between China and India. Very reminiscent of Nevada, until you gain some altitude and can see the vastness of it. This "kingdom" of Lo Manthang was a separate entity until sometime in the 1970’s, and westerners have only been able to visit since the ‘90’s. Many times it was apparent that we were novelties, especially among the children. My traveling companions were all British, friends of friends of a woman who I met in the Grand Canyon in 2005. It was a good group, and I was the oldest, as well as the only one who pronounced the King’s English properly.
We covered about 150 miles in 13 or 14 days on foot. There were four Sherpas, two guides, several porters, one cook, and six mules. As we left Jomosom, we basically entered a culture of a couple centuries ago. There were no power lines, no telephones, no vehicles save an occasional old tractor, no infrastructure of any kind. Some villages had small solar panels to power a flourescent bulb at night. Cooking is done on dung fires. Most of the time we were between 10,000 and 12,000’ elevation. We slept on the ground usually in livestock stables, and bathed in a half-liter of water each morning. Our diet was primarily vegetarian, with an occasional bit of chicken. No beef in Nepal. Villages we stayed in were named Kagbeni, Chuksang, Chele, Samar, Ghemi, Tsarang, Dhakmar, and Muktinath. Had three days of hanging around Lo Manthang (Mustang). The trails were constant up and down, there being no level ground in the Himalaya. Rode horses one day, checking out ancient caves that no one knows exactly the purpose of. We rode almost to Tibet. I didn’t make a photograph for the first three or four days. It became obvious to me that the people were going to be my major focus. I had read somewhere that not everyone appreciated having their photograph taken, so I learned how to ask their permission in Nepalese. About half of the time, the response was, "No, please do not".
We were immersed in Tibetan culture from the beginning of the trek, though officially inside Nepalese borders. The people were gracious and welcoming. They are beautiful, with quick smiles, perfect teeth, and gorgeous features. They look you in the eye, smile, then say "Namaste", which is translated as "I salute the god in you". The genetic connection between these Tibetans and our plains Indians and the Inuit of the arctic is really apparent. All engaged in subsistence agriculture, all harvesting done by hand, sometimes with the help of horses. Buddhist shrines everywhere, prayer flags on every mountain pass (we must have crossed a dozen or more) and cris-crossing every village, classrooms full of young monks chanting, cows freely roaming wherever they want. It’s illegal to kill a cow in Nepal, even though cows are sacred only to the Hindus. That’s another thing that really endeared me to these folks : Hindus and Buddhists are totally cool with each other, in fact they often worship in each other’s temples, stupas, monasteries. The attitude seems to be, close is good enough ! Ask a person which religion is his, and he will most likely respond, "Actually, I’m a little of both".
From our camp in Muktinath one day, several of us climbed up to Thorung La, an 18,000’ pass between the Annapurnas and the Dualagiris. Our ascent was 5000’, equivalent to our typical Mt Hood climbs. Major difference was the previous day’s tough walk and climb to a 14k pass, and the altitude. It was a tough day, and the highest one can get in the Himalayas without being part of a major climb. I had twisted a knee a couple days before, but the Sherpas were very competent in their treatment of my injury, and others’ sicknesses. I would recommend this adventure to anyone who has good feet, strong legs, and a desire to visit a third-world Buddhist culture.
In the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, "The rugged landscape of the region and the challenges of the climate make conditions for transport difficult. Consequently, the region has been slower to change than elsewhere. The people who live there place much less importance on time than the inhabitants of the teeming cities in other parts of the world. Taking a patient, unhurried approach to life is a natural part of the local character. …I have observed throughout the Himalayas that people are mild-mannered, easily contented, satisfied with whatever conditions are available, and resilient in the face of hardship. The rigors of climate and environment contribute to this, but another significant factor has been the Buddhist culture that has flourished in the region for more than a thousand years. Himilayan people seem to have an unusually well developed sense of inner peace and hope. I am convinced that our Buddhist heritage, with its teachings of love, kindness, and tolerance, has contributed to this, especially the notion that all things are relative and impermanent."
CLIMBING 14'ers in COLORADO
The best thing I could think to do to prepare for the altitude and physical demands of the Himalaya was to hang out in Frisco, Colorado for a week at 9000', and climb 13 or 14 thousand foot peaks every day. There are many to choose from a short drive from Frisco, and most are day hikes.
I'm noticing that more and more of my adventures do not result in photographs. A little disappointing perhaps, but it's true that light and other conditions are not always conducive. And with every year, I get more fussy about what I want to shoot. The Hasselblad was with me every day, but light and inspiration were lacking. It was still a great week.
The first two days were spent on long conditioning hikes, up to 12,000' or so. First was into Salmon and Willow Lakes, and day two was a long trek up to Eccles Pass, and back around Buffalo Mountain to Frisco. The view from Eccles Pass is stunning. This is a place I would like to return to photograph, but spend a couple days.
On the third day I climbed to the top of Buffalo Mountain, about 13,000' high. The next day was Quandary Peak, up to 14,200'. Over the last couple thousand feet, there was an ominous black sky off to the southwest. I kept trying to convince myself that it was on a track to the north of my mountain. Not the case, however. Just short of the summit, lightning began striking all over the area, and I encountered a couple women literally running downhill. One stopped for a moment, and I casually inquired, "Well, whaddaya think ?" Her response, "I think you will make a very good lightning rod. Though your rubber soles may dull the pain a bit." I took her sarcasm to heart, and turned to follow them, but I couldn't run as fast downhill. Soon the wind and hail started, and all of a sudden I was literally in winter conditions in August ! The hail was almost ankle deep.
Mount Elbert was the next day. This is the second highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,400', and Mt Whitney in the Sierras of California is somewhat higher. This was a good long slog, and my old body is starting to whine a little. About a thousand feet short of the summit, I ran into Dave and Michelle from New Hampshire who were about to turn around. We decided to continue on as a committee, and had a fine climb. The summit view was gorgeous, and in conversation it was determined that we shared affinity for a well-brewed IPA. That was good motivation for the very long descent, and we enjoyed a couple pints in Leadville at the highest brew pub in the country.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
I had six very active days in Zion, but this time no photographs happened. That's OK. It was a great week, and good adventure is the point anyhow. Sometimes when an area is first explored, the thing I take away is how and when to visit in the future, so time-of-day or time-of-year is more conducive to a successful photograph.
On day one I climbed up to Angels Landing and continued most of the way up to the West Rim Spring. Day two was a long descent of the Left Fork of North Creek, through the Subway, which I had not seen before. At the trailhead I met Bob May from Salt Lake City, and his sons Tyson and Bryce. With four of us, and two vehicles, we could do a shuttle, and begin our trip at the north end, descending the canyon. It would have been near impossible to do this alone. We set up three rappels and had to swim two deep and very cold pools. Each of these little obstacles took time to plan, set up, and get four people through. My mates were willing to wait while I set up the Hasselblad, especially in the Subway, but I chose not to. It will be there still when I return. As it was, we made our final ascent to the car in the dark.
The third day was stormy, and was good timing as I needed a rest. On day four I started up the Virgin River Narrows, but found the footing treacherous. The previous day's rain had caused the river to rise considerably, and even worse, it was the color of chocolate. Since most of the route up through the Narrows is in the river, this presented a real problem. I hiked to the Emerald Pools instead, which was a first for me. Not very photogenic, really.
On the last day of this little trip, I ventured up the Right Fork of North Creek. Don't remember why, but something had suggested it to me. The route was tough and very brushy, and maybe not one I will do again. Zion is such a great place for adventure. This was my third visit, and surely not the last.
GRAND CANYON on the COLORADO RIVER
April - May 2005
I made a commitment to myself a few years ago to start seriously crossing things off the list. It's easy to add them, and there they sit, year after year. Then all of a sudden, you're old and cranky, and your body parts start to fail. So, I picked dates, hooked up with an organizer from Seattle who focuses on hiking the side canyons, and off we went. The professional outfitter was Hatch, and their crew of four who organized meals, hikes, and guided the three huge rafts were amazing, memorable people.
From the beginning at Lee's Ferry just below Glen Canyon Dam to the end in Lake Mead our trip was over 300 miles, in 12 days. The rafts had small outboard motors which were hugely helpful navigating thru the rapids, and allowing for movement downriver to the next hike. We camped on sand bars most nights, though two were spent on solid rock. Every day were hikes of varying length, ones for serious trekkers, more moderate ones, and hikes for being mostly lazy in the sun.
Among the most memorable events of the trip, on day one, we saw probably ten California Condors near the mouth of the Paria River. Later that day on a hike, I was at eye level with one, soaring up the canyon that I was traversing. It was one of the few times on the trip that I was alone. What a treat to see these magnificent birds thriving here. On one of the nights we camped on bedrock during a storm. Only found-rocks and our body weight kept our tents up. In the middle of the night there was an awful sound of rockfall right above our heads. I was sure that some of us would be squished, but no. And one of the finest places on earth is Havasu Creek, all of its 12 miles from the mouth up to the village of Supai. The amazing turquoise water and travertine deposits have to be seen to be believed. Every turn of the creek is another potential photograph.
This was the first time in my life of wilderness tripping to be part of a group. Among the things I had to give up was the ability to stop and set up the Hasselblad whenever I wanted. So, as the days progressed, it became obvious that I had to choose between big hikes among a constantly moving group, or more time to drift about in solitude making photographs. I got a little of both.
This is a perfect adventure for anyone with interest in the geologic history of the earth. One is allowed to see and touch rock that is 3 billion years old. There is one side creek that exposes the Great Discontinuity, where the sediments on top of the exposed schist are 1.5 billion years younger than the bedrock. One and a half billion years of missing geology !
The sheer immensity of the ditch is almost incomprehensible. The forces required to carve the Grand Canyon are difficult for my simple mind to wrap around. But it's clear then also that this planet has always been engaged in the processes of formation, destruction, putting a river here, an ocean there, filling same with ground up rock, burying, compressing, uplifting new mountain ranges, cutting them with rivers, washing them back out to sea, forming new sediments. Over and over, force it up, wash it away. You would think we would accept our presence here with a little more grace, a little more humility. A lot more respect.