I wrote a new post on my other blog entitled All Creation Sings. I recount a specific moment in Alaska when summiting Mt. Eielson when I saw Denali for the first time. It is a faith post, so if that’s not your thing you may choose to disregard… but I thought you each would identify with the emotions that I share in the post.
Btw… I am heading to Wrangell St. Elias NP in Alaska at the beginning of August for a week in the wilderness. New trip reports will be coming then.
In the middle of April a group of us will be hiking the 40 mile Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon. Over 4 nights, 5 days we will descend over 5000 feet down Tanner Trail to the Colorado River and then hike along the unmarked Escalante Route from east to west, connecting to Tonto Trail and then Horseshoe Mesa along Grandview Trail. Here is a more detailed summary and map of this route.
Planning a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon poses a few challenges, but nothing that experienced backpackers can’t easily handle. Leading up to this trip there were three main challenges that we needed to spend some time discussing: getting the backcountry permit, time of year to hike this route, and clean water sources.
Getting the Backcountry Permit
For some reason we had significant issues landing a Backcountry Permit for the Grand Canyon, although we did finally get one after several submissions. Like most National Parks, permits are required for backcountry camping but each park has it’s own process for how that is done. Most of the time it has to do with the volume of requests. Being that there is a higher demand in Spring/Early Summer and Fall for backcountry permits in the Grand Canyon (because of more moderate temps), there is a four month window in which the backcountry permit application needs to be submitted for a random drawing. For instance, if you are wanting to hike in April like us, the backcountry permit application needs to be submitted on December 1. Once submitted, the random drawing and slotting begins. The mistake I made on this particular application was that I only listed our preferred itinerary and one alternative itinerary. From my research the Escalante Route does not have high demand so I thought we would be slotted easily. My other mistake was that I thought the Backcountry Office would contact me and offer another suggestion if one of the campsites had already been taken. Sure enough I received a DENIED email and letter. Upon calling the office and asking why our application had been denied I was told that one of our requested sites had already been filled for that particular night. I was very frustrated because every other NP I have ever worked with has been incredibly helpful with offering other options or suggestions. The Backcountry Office at the Grand Canyon told me that they have too many applications each month to work with people. Anyway, after three submissions we were FINALLY approved… even though it is over Easter weekend. My suggestion is to do your research and know all of the backcountry camping spots that are available to you in each zone and the mileage between each. Be prepared to submit your application with three separate itineraries to increase your odds of getting exactly what you want. It appears that the spot that was the snag for us was Tanner Creek. This must be a spot that overnight hikers compete for as well.
Time of Year
As I mentioned above, the best time during the year to hike the Grand Canyon is Spring/Early Summer and Fall. Winter is an option as well, however icy conditions may make trails difficult and/or dangerous. One thing to take into consideration is the change of temperature with altitude. The Grand Canyon is a bit different than what you might expect. The elevation at the North Rim is about 8000 feet and the South Rim is about 7000 feet. As one descends, the temperature actually rises and can be up to 30-40 degrees warmer at the bottom. This is significant and should be taken into account when planning the time of year that you want to go, the gear you should pack, and your strategy for water.
For our group this has been the most discussed topic. On the Escalante Route there are few suitable drinking water options. Now granted, we will not be hiking in the middle of the summer in which the canyon temperatures could reach up to 120F and necessitate significant water consumption… but for the elevation changes and the daily mileage we will cover we also do not want to carry large quantities of water. Water weighs in at about 8 pounds per gallon and can easily become the heaviest single item in your pack. There is at least one spring along this route near Horseshoe Mesa (Page/Miners Spring)… so utilizing the Colorado River is essential. The greatest single threat for pumping and filtering out of the Colorado is fine silt, which can easily pass most pre-filters and damage the pump. After considering several researched ideas we put together a few that should make for some fresh, clean water. We are planning to bring a collapsable bucket so that we can scoop water out of the river. By adding Aluminum Sulfate to the water, particulate begins to clump together and fall to the bottom of the container. This will allow us to use our water filters without fear that the sediment will damage them. Additionally, we are going to secure our pre-filters with coffee filters in order to add one more layer of filtration. Overkill? Always.
Once we return I will give a day-by-day account of the hike.
Have you hiked the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon? If so, tell me about your experience.
This excerpt is from the post Thanksgiving at my other blog brandonandress.com. I thought this portion was a perfect perspective for those of us who love nature and the outdoors.
The Spirit cries out to me: See the wonder! See the glory! See the beauty! And move forward in awe!
Take it all in and delight. Let the wind blow at your back and let the sun shine down on your face.
Listen to the conversations.
Joy in the laughter of your children.
Celebrate that you can give your baby a bath.
Delight in the songs of the birds and the rustling of the leaves.
Be enveloped by everything and everyone around you.
Count your blessings.
Smell the autumn fragrance.
Let the preparation of your meal be a prayer and a blessing.
Savor every bite as if it is your very first.
Feel the textures.
Let the work of your hands be praise.
Count your blessings.
Sit in the woods and notice every detail of creation.
Close your eyes and absorb every note and harmony.
Glory in every drop of your morning coffee.
Embrace the touch of another.
Join in the chorus of all creation in praise.
Count your blessings.
Can any one of us even utter a grumble…in the midst of creation’s immeasurable wonder?
It is good.
It is good.
It is good.
From the depths of my soul and with every breath…thank you God. I am an unworthy man.
After going to bed at 7pm because of the pouring rain on Day 3, we awoke the next morning with clear skies overhead. In terms of elevation, the last leg of the North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail was almost entirely downhill. In fact, this final 9.2 miles would take us down 3000 feet through Big Meadow and back to the North Inlet/Tonahutu TH.
Day 4 (Wednesday, July 25)
Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet) to Tonahutu/North Inlet TH via Big Meadows (8540 feet)- 9.2 miles
This was one of the toughest mornings. Of course it was really wet when we got out of our tents, but then packing up our wet stuff is another thing. The sun would not be offering any help because it was still hiding behind the mountainside. This is more of a reality for this area than what we experienced throughout the entire trip. We were really fortunate that we did not get rained on more. I would advise anyone backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park to always have a raincoat accessible at the top of your pack.
The coolest thing about the North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop Trail is that you get a ton of variation and diversity in terrain. While my favorite portion was the alpine hike through the cairns along the Continental Divide on Day 3, there is no question that there was something refreshing and reinvigorating about falling below the tree-line and then walking out into a vast green meadow. Big Meadow makes you take off your pack and stand still… so the calming breeze can envelop you.
The homestretch of our nine-mile trek took us back through the pines. There were not many exciting moments on this day, it was just a peaceful hike back to the TH. As we approached the parking lot to wrap up North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop Trail, our minds were already thinking about the next day when we would be tackling Long’s Peak, the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,258 feet. Day five would have us hiking over 3300 for five miles to camp at the Boulderfield, which will be by far the coolest camping spot to which I have ever been.
Day 5 (Thursday, July 26)
Longs Peak Trailhead (9400 feet) to Boulderfield Campground (12,750 feet)
We left July backcountry campsite, where we stayed at the end of Day 2, early on Tuesday morning. We would be ascending over 1700 feet as we continued on North Inlet Trail to reach our connection to the Tonahutu Trail, which travels along a portion of the Continental Divide. We would then drop 1800 feet altitude to finish up our 7.5 mile hike at the Renegade backcountry campsite.
Day 3 (Tuesday, July 24)
July Campsite (10,650 feet) to Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet)- 7.5 miles
Total Day 2- 7.5 miles
Maximum elevation gain- 1713 feet
As we started out the morning… the name of the game was elevation. We were climbing by switchbacks along the mountainside which overlooked an absolutely brilliant valley. In every way this spacious vastness just screamed life…and we took it in with every breath. Forget about the heavy packs and trudging upward fighting gravity…this was heaven on earth man. It was just good. But it didn’t take long before we were left standing still in our own tracks. As we looked 25-feet uphill… a 6×6, 600-pound bull elk was hovering over us chewing on this green breakfast. He thought we were interesting, but his breakfast was more interesting. He was close enough that we did not want to move for fear that he might get defensive, so we stayed put. Eventually he began to move away but only to move ONTO OUR TRAIL AT THE SWITCHBACK. He never snorted. He never stomped his hooves. He was definitely cool. But we didn’t have the courage to move forward. So we retreated back by 30-feet and had to climb straight up the mountain to connect to our trail. Some fellow hikers, without our knowledge, was below us on the mountain and snapped a couple of pictures for us.
Once we made it above the tree-line into the alpine region… my heart began to skip from the striking beauty. These are the places you see in magazines and say, “I wish I could be there.” And here we were. It was so surreal. Forget my words… just look at the pictures.
The beauty speaks for itself. You find out very quickly how the area got it’s name because it is definitely rocky. Some of the boulders and boulder configurations baffle the mind. The temperature on this July day was in the mid-60’s at this elevation (over 12,000 feet). We needed light shirt with sleeves… but it was the ultra-violet radiation which was the concern. We wore our UV sunglasses and put on sunscreen for our exposed skin areas.
We could see the valley opening up with a mix of wildflowers and pine. The final leg of our hike along the Tonahutu Trail would take us to Renegade. This final section, in my opinion, was rough hiking. The rocks were many times the size of baseballs and softballs, which made our steps rough. We also began to see a ton of marmots running out from the rocks across the trail and into other rocks. Pretty amazing stuff.
We set up quickly at Renegade and went down to the creek to cool off and wash up. We ate supper early and sat back to relax when the storm clouds rolled in. It started to rain at 7pm and we hopped into our tents. We ended up falling asleep as it rained all night long.
This was one of my favorite days on the hike. Day 4 will take us through the Big Meadow and back to the TH.
Day 4 (Wednesday, July 25)
Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet) to Tonahutu/North Inlet TH via Big Meadows (8540 feet)- 9.2 miles
The date of this weekend long trip to the Charles Deam Wilderness in the Hoosier National Forestry south of Bloomington, Indiana was chosen before the full extent of the weather was forecast. And as our trip date approached it became apparent that only two words were needed to describe our weekend: very cold. The high was forecast in the low 20’s F and the low was forecast in the single digits.
We arrived on a dark Friday evening at about 7:30pm and were already in the midst of a moderate snowfall with a temperature just below freezing. Obviously our main priorities for the night were to get to our camping location, set up our tents, and start a fire.
Our hike started in the parking lot east of Sycamore Trail. We wanted to get a little more than a couple of miles into Sycamore Trail before setting up for the night.
Our excitement and energy were more intense than the snow and cold. We jumped on the trail and got moving. The trail condition was as good as it could have been considering the conditions. Since the temperature had just fallen below freezing, and being that we have had an unseasonably warm winter in Indiana, the trail was a bit muddy… but not inhibiting. It didn’t slow our pace as far as I could tell. As would be the case throughout our hike, the elevation changes were minimal, but very enjoyable.
The next 100 minutes of hiking really flew by. The only stop we made along the way was to look at a mouse that had climbed up a small tree. He was just chillin’ and watching it snow. We left him in peace and made our way to our camping destination. We quickly removed the debris from the area and set up our tents. We knew the more difficult task would be getting a fire started when everything was relatively wet. We began gathering as much dry material as we could, from the ground and our packs, and within 10 minutes we had a really nice 3-foot fire.
We ate a bit, chatted, and warmed up. Even though the temperature and snow were falling around us, spirits were high and we looked forward to a productive hike the next morning.
We woke up Saturday morning to a bone-chilling 11 degrees. My mummy bag worked well but for some reason my toes were really frozen. We crept from our tombs and made our way to the once raging fire pit and began to stoke it back to life. It wasn’t long before we were warming up and enjoying some breakfast and coffee.
The truth is that what REALLY warms a person up is…hiking. We broke down camp, put the site back to it’s original form, and then geared up. We hit the trail and it wasn’t but ten minutes before my blood was pumping…warming everyone extremity on my body.
We follow the remainder of Sycamore Trail loop, which was comprised of a relatively flat, wide trails, a few downhill switchbacks, and one steep ascent. The beauty of Sycamore Trail and Axsom Trail, which we would be connecting to later, is the stunning pines that line the trails. Even in the cold of winter the pine smell is just refreshing and reminds me why I am enduring the cold. It is a magnificence and a beauty that is uniquely different than spring, summer, or fall. It would be a mistake to avoid winter hiking for fear of being cold. Closing your eyes, breathing deep the cold air, smelling the crisp, clean pine, and feeling the blood warmly pulsate through your body in the frigidness of winter reminds me that I am alive. It is good.
In total we had covered roughly 7.5 miles before we settled on a campsite on Axsom Trail. We found an extremely nice spot in the middle of some pines right next to a small pond. Before setting up the tent we made a huge bed of pine needles as a cushion and then set the tent up on it. We got another raging fire going and settled in for the evening meal and conversation. Wild mushroom and herb couscous was on the menu for me…and I was really excited about it. Two days of Clif Bars, almonds, and cranberries makes one crave some flavor!
Before I went to bed the last night, I took a large rock that had been next to the fire with me to bed. The rock was very hot and would be hot for quite some time. I figured that I would put it in my sleeping bag and the radiant heat would keep me toasty warm for hours. I was right! For a little over three hours I was toasty, toasty warm in my sleeping bag. I slept like a baby. I was still relatively warm the rest of the night, but I highly recommend sleeping with a warm rock (and peeing twice before you go to bed). You DO NOT want to get out of your bag when it is single digits outside! : )
In an Indiana winter it might be 50 degrees by day and snowing a foot by night. It is completely unpredictable. But when nature blesses you with a temperature 25 degrees above the seasonal average…you better be outside enjoying it!
I jetted out to Brown County with one of my good friends, local craft brewer Jon Myers. Our plan was nothing more than to get out, breathe deep, and enjoy a brisk hike. For as lush, vibrant, and alive that Brown County State Park is during the spring and summer… winter is a completely different story- there is not one leaf on a tree. For a place that is renown for rolling hills clothed with the finest green that nature can afford… winter strips the hills in haunting nakedness. While far from it’s full glory, there is a simple beauty resident in a Brown County winter.
We started off on the northwest corner of Ogle Lake and took Trail 7 (which winds all the way around Ogle Lake) until it connected with Trail 4. As we broke off onto Trail 4, the trail stayed relatively flat with a few small elevation changes. While the leaves covered both sides of the trail, I was a bit surprised how muddy the trail was. This was my first hike in my new Merrell Outbound Hiking Boot that I got for Christmas so the mud was sure to initiate them. We soon connected with Trail 5 and we worked our way into the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve. The trail began to ascend along the side of the hill and continued about 300 feet upward until we reached an opening at Rally Campground.
We stopped for about ten minutes at the top and then continued our loop by connecting to Trail 4 again. This trail would take us back to Trail 7 and then Ogle Lake. Most of this section of Trail 4 was downhill. I thought that this was a really nice section of Trail 4. The warm sun was beaming overhead and we took a leisurely pace to soak it in and just be at peace.
Ogle Lake was soon in sight and we connected with Trail 7. The last leg took us the rest of the way around the lake. The beavers had obviously been busy as there were several trees down and several trees that had been gnawed fairly significantly.
We finished our 3.75 mile hike and made our way back to the parking lot. Hiking in the barrenness of winter definitely gives me an overwhelming sense of stillness, contentment, and simplicity but more than anything it produces a longing within me for spring… for rebirth and life… and that from death… something below the surface is waiting to awaken… and when summoned to come forth… life explodes and abounds. Praise God for winter and longing and hope and anticipation and this profound sense of expectancy down deep in my soul.
If you live in the Midwest, one place you definitely need to check out is Red River Gorge just southeast of Lexington, Kentucky in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
“The Red” is known around the world by climbers because of the vast number of cliffs in and around the area. The pocketed sandstone formations lend themselves to avid climbers on hundreds to thousands of bolted and non-bolted routes. The popularity of this area for climbing can be evidenced at Miguel’s Pizza, one of the finest hole-in-the-wall restaurants of which you will ever have the pleasure of eating pizza, as the parking lot is a collection of vehicles sporting plates from all across the United States.
But on this early Spring excursion we were not there for climbing. Two of my good friends and I would be embarking on a two night, three day hike that would take us in a loop covering about 15 miles. This was my fourth trip to the Red River Gorge but my first time hiking Rough Trail.
We finished our three and a half hour caravan arriving in the early evening. Our plan was to hit the trail, hike until dusk, and then set up camp on a nice little knoll in the backcountry that Patrick knew about. But as we pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead we could tell that the sky looked menacing. Almost instantly it began to pour down rain.
We laughed about it and decided to wait it out. The rain however had decided to wait us out and came down even harder. Like true outdoorsmen, we got out of the car, loaded up our gear, and began marching triumphantly in the rain. And then it began to hail on us. Despite having hats and hoods on, the hail pelted our skulls in an uncompromising effort to turn us around. And in less than ten minutes we were victors. The sun came out from behind the clouds long enough to congratulate us and then hid over the hillside.
It seemed as if we were on our way to breaking a few of the cardinal rules of hiking and camping: we were soaked and the evening air was cooling. We did not have our shelter set up. And we did not have dry wood or a fire. To add further to our unfortunate circumstance… we could see that another group had already established camp on our knoll. We had no other choice than to press on. We put our headlamps on and hiked upward out of the valley. It wasn’t long before we found a nice spot just passed Gray’s Arch.
We set up the tent in less than three minutes and scoped out the area for an already established fire pit, which we found about twenty feet from the tent. It was going to be nearly impossible to get a meaningful fire going and knock the chill off our bones. As I kicked around in the wet ashy stew of a fire pit I noticed a small miracle- an ember! Not to let our circumstance rise above our pursuit of doing things the hard way, we quickly rallied together in order to nurture this thing to life. Eric, Patrick, and I gathered as much dry organic material as we could find and brought this miracle to life! It wasn’t the biggest fire in camping history, but we warmed up and dried out.
The next morning we were up and off early, but not before imbibing in some mandatory Starbucks Via to get the blood pumping. Although the sun was up early as well we knew that the chance of rain was high. In fact, it was almost certain to storm at some point during the day. In the meantime we hiked and explored the area. The rock formations in Red River Gorge are all so unique. If you didn’t know better, you might think that the natural bridges, caves, and cliffs were hand crafted.
We continued on Rough Trail toward the juncture with Sheltowee Trace. Overhead the clouds began to mist on us and we predicted that this might we a good time for a lunch break, as more rain was imminent. We scampered up a small hillside and ducked beneath a cliff, took out our lunch, and watch the rains come down. Pretty good timing.
We finished lunch and continued on Sheltowee toward Koomer Ridge Trail and Hidden Arch. The trail took us away from all of the sandstone structures and into more wooded areas. This was an interesting development because the sky was turning very dark and I was becoming concerned that something big was brewing without anywhere to take shelter. I wasn’t interested in taking on a huge storm in the middle of a forest, so we picked up the pace double-time. Our prayers were answered as we got to an area close to Hidden Arch that opened up wide with a large rock overhang. We got there with absolutely no time to spare. The winds began swirling and blowing very hard and horizontally. The heavens opened and IT RAINED HARD…but we had the best seats in the house. What an awesome event to watch and what an awesome place from which to watch it!
After the rain subsided and we jumped on Koomer Ridge Trail, we passed some hikers who weren’t able to find shelter during the storm and stop out in the forest as it passed. The were soak to the bone. We, on the other, we completely dry. Just saying.
In an area close to where Koomer Ridge Trail and Buck Trail connect we found heaven on earth- a camping spot in the middle of a Y where two streams come together as one. We plunged in and crossed the thigh high current to the other side and began to set up camp. Travelers before us had already constructed a very nice fire pit and stone seats. I am not sure if I have ever camped at a place where I felt more at home. And what beauty! The two streams rushing and crashing together was so peaceful and soothing.
After a night by the fire in conversation and then sleeping soundly by the water, our hike out would celebrated with a slice at Miguel’s.