Friday, August 14, 2009

Ah, a weekend, and I'm back on my lap, wife by my side, freed from my job for another 2 1/4 days.

I sent out an announcement to a handful of my friends & family, letting them know I started this blog, and have received some good comments -- and some from unknown readers even . Maybe one of the unknowns is a publisher...! Hahahah.

It's growing dusk now, the setting sun suffusing the cumulus off to the west with oranges, pinks and yellows. I love this time of evening. If there are clouds, they catch the last of the sun even after it's started getting dark at ground level; if the sky is clear, extreme slanted rays shine across the atmosphere and create some of the most wonderful shadows. And this is in Indiana. Evenings in the desert are even more dramatic.

I love the Southwest. I've camped and hiked all over the Sonoran Desert, up and down many of the mountains and valleys in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, and spent some nine months inside the Grand Canyon over the years (I totalled it up once, just to see), including one period of almost two months solo. I didn't even see another person for close to six weeks -- only when I was within a few miles of Phantom Ranch on the way in and then again on the way out. It was exhilarating, relaxing, strenuous, more than a little intimidating on occasion, and, while I'm no longer in the shape to do it again, I love having done it.

When I checked in at the South Rim ranger station to get my permit and let them know roughly where I would be, they asked the usual questions: when was I starting, what area would I be going to...and when I told them I planned to be down two months, eyes popped up from the desktop. "Two months!?" THEN they examined what trails I'd been on, how many canyon hikes I'd made altogether, how much in canyon backcountry, grilled me on the camping regulations limiting days at any one site and within any single area, and so on. And they examined my 28-kilo pack to see what supplies I was taking.

I had one of the filtering water pumps that had just hit the market and, with it being winter and all, I wasn't too concerned about water. I could (and did) pump it out of catchbasins, creeks and more than once out of the Colorado River. The porcelain filter was supposed to be good down to .xxx microns (I can't remember now) and filtered out not only silt and bugs but giardia cysts and other water-borne triggers. I had a spare filter, just in case. And a spare pair of boots, too, although the pair I wore down was new but broken in. That pair fell apart about 5 weeks in, the stitching a victim to lots of miles off-trail.

Hiking down the only trail really open at that time of year, Bright Angel, I quickly passed from the 10" of snow on top of ice at the rim (25 degrees F, brrr), down through it having become slush about 1/3 down, and then drying mud 2/3 down the trail. The trail was dry and dusty the last 1000 vertical feet. I crossed the river, passed Phantom Ranch and went straight up onto the N. Tonto plateau, heading downriver. I found water sources that Harvey Butchart didn't even have in his extensive hiking notes, including one stream the size of my upper arm pouring out of a notch in some rocks.

This is the land of ravens, burros and deer, smaller varmints, lizards and snakes. I loved it. After camping my way downriver for a week or two, I thought I might be done (even earlier than I'd figured) and began heading back upriver. But the closer I got to that last territory short of Phantom Ranch, the less I thought I was ready to go out. So back downriver I went for another several weeks, making a different circle this time (since I was using only game trails anyway). I finally came out in the latter part of February.

Enjoy the weekend!

Clouds in sky above
new grass, red dirt at my feet
Spirit surrounds me

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