Monday, June 5, 2017

Rim-to-Rim Blog No. 3: Cottonwood, through the Box and on to Phantom Ranch

In this blog post, we’ll continue our virtual hike from the Manzanita Rest Area to Phantom Ranch.  Are you well-hydrated and rested for this next stage of our trek down the North Kaibab Trail?

Before we start, let me share an additional hydration tip.  I call it “cameling up”.  A unique characteristic of camels is their ability to go for an extended period of time without drinking water. When water is available, camels tend to drink lots of it. They store it in their humps. That’s the origin of my term “cameling up”.

As we approach each water stop, I recommend drinking all of the water you have left. Next, drink one-half to one full liter of water at the stop. Finally, refill your bottles or Camelbak® as you are getting ready to get back on the trail.  Camel up!!!!  Note: You’ll see evidence of the Trans-Canyon Pipeline all along the trail, from Roaring Springs down to Phantom Ranch and up to the South Rim. It’s the “life blood” of the Grand Canyon.

As we leave the Manzanita Rest Area, we've already hiked 5.4 trail miles, and we're at an elevation of 5,220 feet. That means we've already descended 3,000 feet.  In 1.4 trail miles, we'll arrive at the Cottonwood Campground (elevation 4,600 feet).  Drink up and top off your bottles here. It is the only established campground on the North Kaibab Trail, and there is a ranger station located here. 
In the general area around the Cottonwood Ranger Station, you can glimpse the North Rim Lodge.  Look to the west, and keep looking up until you see it. You have hiked 6.8 trail miles to get here, but overhead (as the crow flies) the lodge is less than a mile up!

Another 1.6 trail miles beyond the Cottonwood Campground and one-quarter mile off the North Kaibab Trail is Ribbon Falls. At an elevation of 3,720 feet, Ribbon Falls is a small waterfall with pools that are very inviting to take a cool dip. However, you may or may not want to visit Ribbon Falls, depending on the time of day you get to this point.  Shortly after the trail junction to Ribbon Falls, you will enter the "Box" which is a part of the inner gorge.  This gorge of black rock can be extremely hot. Its narrow walls radiate heat as if you were in an oven.  Once the sun moves overhead and heats up the rock even more, it can be stifling. So, I recommend that you bypass Ribbon Falls if it's after 9:00 A.M. when you get to the trail junction.

The North Kaibab Trail continues gradually downhill for 5.0 trail miles as you enter and hike through the Box. You'll be fully exposed to the sun now, with no shade anywhere.  Welcome to the desert!!

As you exit the Box, you will be in the heart of the inner gorge.  You'll notice many rock formations and spires all around you.  Many of these have names originating from Greek Mythology.  For example, there is Wotan's Throne, Zoraster’s Temple, Cheop's Pyramid, and so on.  For me, these stone temples add to the allure of this magical place.

Onward to Phantom Ranch, which is 7.0 trail miles from Cottonwood Campground.  Once you reach Phantom Ranch (elevation 2,480 feet), you’ll have hiked 14 trail miles from the North Kaibab Trailhead. Yahoo!!

At the ranch, take a little time to soak your feet in Bright Angel Creek.  Make sure you eat lots of carbs, trail mix, and/or energy bars, and don’t forget to “camel up”. Below is some history to take your mind off your tired, sore feet.

The first documented visit to this area by non-indigenous peoples was a river expedition led by John Wesley Powell  in 1869.  Powell chose this spot for a camp due to the clear running water of Bright Angel Creek, as opposed to the murky, silty red water of the Colorado.  Note: The Spanish word “Colorado” translates as “red” in English. 

In 1903, the area was named Rust’s Camp. David Rust built a cable car trolley crossing the Colorado from the South Rim side. Ten years later, it was renamed Roosevelt’s Camp. In 1913, after failing to win re-election to the presidency, Teddy Roosevelt visited this site on a mountain lion hunting expedition. Hence the name Roosevelt's Camp. As he was crossing the river for the first time in a cable car, President Roosevelt was heard to say something like "a jolly good ride".  

Ralph Cameron was an early pioneer explorer and entrepreneur who also happened to be one of Arizona's first senators. In the early 1900's, he lobbied for a spur-line of the Santa Fe Railway to be constructed, terminating near what is now the Bright Angel Trailhead. The train is still operational to this day. You can see the depot in front of the Bright Angel Lodge in the South Canyon Village. 

What Ralph Cameron had in mind next was to improve and commercialize a trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, ending at what is now Phantom Ranch.  The idea for railroaders in general was to build these impressive lodges  at the end of the rail line and give wealthy easterners, celebrities, and socialites a reason to ride the rails. A bonus at the end of the rail line was a mule ride down to Phantom Ranch..

The Fred Harvey Company was the concessionaire for the Santa Fe Railway, and the company also took ownership of the area that is now Phantom Ranch.  Mary Elizabeth Colter worked for the Fred Harvey Company from 1902 until 1945.  Colter was originally trained as an interior designer, but made her name as an architect. She is famously known for designing buildings with an eye to maintaining the integrity of the local indigenous people and their structures. She is responsible for nine building designs on the South Rim.  Note: Plan to tour Hopi House, Hermit's Resthouse, and the Desert Watchtower to really appreciate Colter’s work.

Colter also designed the buildings of Phantom Ranch. As mentioned earlier, Phantom Ranch was 
Phantom Ranch swimming pool pre-1960s.
originally designed for the rich and famous. Very few people actually walked into the Canyon.  Mule trains were the transportation of choice. At one time, a swimming pool was located in front of the dining hall, and a pianist in a tux with tails played a grand piano nightly.

In the 1960's, Phantom Ranch was renovated. The customer base was changing, and the swimming pool and grand piano were not relevant anymore. Instead of dismantling the piano and carrying it out of the Canyon, workers placed it inside the empty swimming pool and filled it in with dirt. The piano and swimming pool are still there—underground.

Spending the night at Phantom Ranch is on many people’s bucket lists. However, the ranch is fully booked up to a year in advance.  Dave Aeilts, a member of our group and the owner of this blog experienced the ultimate “trail magic” on a recent rim-to-rim hike. As a result of unfortunate circumstances, he needed to spend the night at Phantom Ranch. Due to some divine intervention, I’m thinking, there was space for him in the men’s bunkhouse. He even enjoyed a steak dinner in the dining hall. 

I’ve also heard of a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who knew someone who had the “keys to the castle”--in this case, the keys to the Phantom Ranch Bathhouse. Only Dave and this unnamed person from our group know how luxurious the hot water is, and how fluffy the towels are. You go Dave!

Ring-tail cat at Harvest Moon.
As you leave Phantom Ranch, you'll pass Bright Angel Campground.  You need a permit to camp here. On one of our first rim-to-rim hikes, we spent the night of the Harvest Moon at that campground. This is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox, and the point where the moon is closest to the earth. We talked to many people in the campground who had planned their trip to be in this spot on this very night, because of the Harvest Moon. As good fortune would have it, we just happened to be there—another bit of trail magic.

The Harvest Moon was spectacular.  As the night progressed and the moon moved east to west, it was so bright that it cast shadows. What an eerie view of the world from the inside of the Grand Canyon.  “Moon Shadow”, a Cat Stevens song from the 70s comes to mind. Side Note: With the full moon came the invasion of the ring-tailed cats. These critters live in the rock ledges all around the campground. They are nocturnal, and they were 
Grand Canyon Rattlesnake
everywhere. Ringtail cats are not cats at all. They're part of the raccoon family and are scavengers. I was sure glad we had taken steps to store our food. 
Ringtail cats are unique to the southwestern deserts.  In the 1960's, the ringtail cat was designated by the Arizona State Legislature as the State Mammal.

In my next blog post, I’ll give you a break from the hike to talk about some other critters that make the Grand Canyon their home. Some are endangered and others are found nowhere else in the world.  Have you ever heard of the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake? 

Happy Trails,

Chef Johnny

Friday, May 19, 2017

Supai Tunnel, Roaring Springs and the Pump House

In this and future blogs, John Benavidez will be our virtual guide from the North Rim, down the North Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, and up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. Read his first post made on May 2, 2017, and then enjoy the one below. Take it away, Johnny!

On September 29, 2017, at 6:00 a.m., our unofficial group of hikers will begin our next rim-to-rim trek. Are you ready for it?  It will be epic!  At a trailhead elevation of 8,241 feet, it will be in the upper 20s or low 30s temperature-wise.  Dress in layers. You can remove some clothing once you get to Supai Tunnel.  I suggest everyone carry 1 to 2 liters of water.  There is potable water available in three places before we get to Phantom Ranch, and you should refill your water at each spot.  Drink before you get thirsty.  It is a very hot and dry climate in the Grand Canyon, and you will need a lot of hydration.  My personal strategy is to take a big drink of water every 15 minutes.

Supai Tunnel
From the North Kaibab Trailhead, we’ll hike 1.7 miles to Supai Tunnel, and at the same time we'll drop some 1,400 feet in elevation.  However, in less than one mile, we’ll stop at the Coconino Overlook to watch the sun rise at 6:22 a.m. Then, on to the tunnel.

Supai Tunnel was blasted from the rock in the 1920's to accommodate a newly constructed North Kaibab Trail. This new route greatly increased the hiking experience by limiting the number of river crossings you need to make along the route. There is potable water at the tunnel, and restrooms.  It’s a great opportunity to water-up and fine-tune your clothing and pack.  But don’t dally. Right after you pass Supai Tunnel, the Canyon opens eastward, and the light streaming over the Canyon walls will offer your first look at the "Grand Canyon Cathedral" as I call it. 

You're actually hiking in Roaring Springs Canyon, heading towards the Inner Gorge.  Another 1.3 miles down the trail and another 800-foot drop in elevation and you'll cross the Redwall Bridge. Now you are entering the Inner Gorge. Shortly you’ll hear and then see Roaring Springs.

At an elevation of 5,220 feet and 4.7 miles down from the trailhead, Roaring Springs is located on
the east side of the canyon. NOTE: You will walk on the west side of the canyon, but you will have no trouble hearing the roar.  Many geological forces work together to create the water flow down though the sandstone layers until an impermeable layer forces the water out of the canyon wall and voila: there is Roaring Springs.

Redwall Bridge
Roaring Springs is the water source for all of the Grand Canyon National Park.  A pipeline runs near or under the main corridor trails, all across the canyon. It even runs beneath the silver bridge on the Colorado River and up to the South Rim, where it provides water to Grand Canyon Village. This pipeline was completed in 1965, and infrequently springs a leak, which can impact water availability in the canyon. We will check the pipeline’s status prior to our hike.

There is a side trail to the source of Roaring Springs, but I don't recommend it due to somewhat dangerous footing.  Next stop, at 4,600 feet and 5.4 miles down from the trailhead is the Manzanita Rest Area. This is where the original pump house and the pump house operator lived and worked. 

For several decades operator Bruce Aiken worked and lived with his family at the residence here. His wife home-schooled his children, and the children would offer up "the best Lemonade in the Grand Canyon" to passing hikers.  Although it's not always provided nowadays, on a few of my recent trips past Manzanita I've been lucky enough to find some “trail magic” and an ice-cold glass of lemonade.  Maybe we'll luck out this year. 

Roaring Springs
In a USA Today cover story a few years ago, on the most unique/unusual professions in the world, the pump house operator at Roaring Springs was listed as one of the top jobs.  It sure would have been on my wish list of unusual professions.  But that's not all. Over the years that he lived there, Bruce Aiken became known as the “pump house artist”.  He was a very prolific artist who painted many incredible landscapes of the Grand Canyon.  NOTE: If you'd like to take home one of Bruce’s prints, they are available at some of the gift shops on the South Rim. 

Today, the pump house is automated. The house of the pump house operator serves as the residence of a backcountry ranger. There are water, restrooms, picnic tables, and shade available here.  You can even cool your feet in the creek if you'd like. 

A Side Note: Trail magic happens at the most unexpected times. For example, one time when I stopped at the Mazanita Rest Area, I was just getting ready to leave when the ranger came out of her residence. She offered me and my hiking buddies some of her birthday cake to go along with the lemonade. Her sister had hiked over 12 miles the day before to celebrate her birthday and bring her a cake.  That was quite simply the best cake I ever ate!!!

Our next stops along our journey will be Cottonwood Campground, the Box, and Phantom Ranch.  A Teaser: Can you believe there is a grand piano buried in front of the Phantom Ranch store at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?  It’s true!

Happy Trails,
Chef Johnny


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Starting at the North Rim

For the next few blog posts, I’m going to yield the podium to Chef Johnny. By all accounts, he is the member of our unofficial hiking group who has adventured below the rim of Grand Canyon the most times—over 40! In his guest posts, John Benavidez will guide us from the North Rim, down the North Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. I know you will enjoy his perspective. Take it away, Johnny!

A little background: In this and future posts, I’ll lay out for you, both newbies and seasoned hikers, a travelogue of facts and features describing this Most Wonderful Place on Earth. We’ll move from a first view of the Grand Canyon at the North Rim Lodge, into the depths of the Canyon, and up to the South Rim. Hopefully, I'll paint a picture that will take your mind off the rigors of the hike and give you a better appreciation of this magical place.

The first view that you'll get of the Grand Canyon will be from the North Rim Lodge.  Even if you're camping, I suggest you spend some time at the Lodge.  The views are amazing.

North Rim Lodge
Here are some facts about the Lodge itself:

·         The original Lodge was completed in 1928, and built of native stone and timber. 

·         In 1932, a devastating fire that started in the basement destroyed much of the structure.

·         The Lodge was reconstructed in 1936-1937 and reopened shortly thereafter. 

·         In 1987 the North Rim Lodge was designated a National Historic Landmark. It is the views out its massive windows that will define the word “sublime” for you

Brighty the Donkey
Take a few minutes to walk through the lobby and view the pictorial history of the North Rim and the North Rim Lodge.  It will be well worth it.  Along the way, you’ll see a couple of pictures and a statue of "Brighty" the donkey. Brighty (his original name was Bright Angel) lived from 1892 until 1922 at the North Rim. The Bright Angel Trail, Bright Angel Creek, etc., are named after Brighty. 

In his day job, Brighty carried water and supplies along the newly built North Rim trail. Brighty even accompanied Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 on his historic trip into the “yet to be designated” Grand Canyon National Monument.  Brighty became legendary because he was so popular and friendly with children staying at the North Rim Camp, a precursor to the Lodge.
Chef Johnny just below the North Rim.

A mental picture of "Brighty" was formed in my mind at 11 years old, when I read the children’s book titled Brighty of the Grand Canyon.  The author of the book was Marguerite Henry, and the book was published in November 1953. (An interesting side note: that was the month and year I was born.)  The book is a fictional account of Brighty the donkey. The story contained mystery, intrigue, and deception. For me, it painted a magical picture of the Grand Canyon. A work of historical fiction, the book mentions the Indians who live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (the Havasupai) and other interesting facts.  The story impacted me so deeply that I still remember these details over 50 years later. The book and my mental picture of Brighty sowed the seeds for my life-long love affair with “My Grand Canyon”. I know it’s a children’s’ book, but it might be worth your time to read it.

North Kaibab Trail at Sunrise
You'll have a very personal experience hiking Rim to Rim.  It will become "Your Grand Canyon".  It will be very strenuous, but it will be GLORIOUS as well.  In my future posts, I'll talk about the sights you’ll pass along the way.  A TEASER: At 6:00 A.M. on September 29, 2017, you'll start hiking in the dark, and it will be in the low 30's temperature-wise.  Dress in layers.  In less than a mile, you'll come to the Coconino Overlook where very shortly you'll witness one of the best sunrises ever.

Thanks for reading.--Chef Johnny


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Many Questions at Midwest Mountaineering

Rachel Louwsma and Nanci Aeilts at Bright Angel Trailhead.
Rachel Louwsma and Dave Aeilts, three-time Grand Canyon rim-to-river-to-rimmers conducted a clinic at Midwest Mountaineering in March entitled YOU CAN Hike Grand Canyon. Thirty people crowded into the small Expedition Room at 309 Cedar Avenue in North Minneapolis. Most had never hiked Grand Canyon, but were very interested in the possibility. For 75 minutes, Rachel and Dave told stories from the trail, offered advice and answered many questions.

They kicked off the Clinic with a video created by Jason Womack, nine-time rim-to-river-to rim veteran, who encouraged the audience that these hikes are hard but amazingly possible.

We thought you might like to hear Jason's presentation. Click the link below and enjoy!

As you have time, check out Jason and Jodie Womack's Get Momentum Leadership Academy at GetMomentum

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lights to Lead Us Down . . . or Out

$9.00 at Auto Zone
What is the most important piece of gear you will take on our 2017 North Rim to Colorado River to South Rim hike of Grand Canyon?

This afternoon my son, Chris, sent me this text: “I know we’re not planning a night hike, but I picked up a great little headlight today for $9.00.” See the image at right. Click to enlarge.

When we start our rim-to-river-to-rim hikes, whether it is down the South Kaibab or down the North Kaibab, we start in the dark . . . if only for a few moments. Below is a group that hiked South Rim to South Rim in 2012. It was just before 6:00 a.m.
5:45 a.m. at the South Kaibab Trailhead.
and pitch dark when we gathered at the trailhead to use the restrooms and top off our waterbottles. The only way we could see to do that was by our head lamps.

A Camelbak® hydration system, broken-in hiking shoes, hiking poles, a hat for shade and trail food you’ve tried in training may top a hiker’s gear list, but for “one brief shining
Lamps go out as dawn comes.
moment” (some of you may remember that phrase from the Broadway production of Camelot) at the beginning of a rim-to-rim hike, the most essential piece of gear is the head lamp. Without it, few could see to make a good start.

Here’s what I recorded during my first descent into the canyon:

“Our cadre of hikers quickly descended through a series of severe switchbacks known as The Chimney and then headed north. Our head lamps illuminated the five-to-six-foot-wide path bordered on one side by a sheer rock wall and on the other by a steep drop-off. To those of us at the rear, these lamps appeared as tiny bouncing theater lights outlining the sand trail and guiding us ever downward. Dark night yielded to pre-dawn gray.  One-by-one we extinguished our lamps and strained to make out the growing vistas before us . . . “

Headlamp illuminates hiker
and precipices after dusk.
A second time during a rim-to-river-to-rim adventure, slow hikers like me have appreciated the illumination of a head lamp. I recall climbing the last one-and-one-half miles of the Bright Angel Trail with my lamp on in 2016. My hiking partner Pete and I arrived at the trailhead on the South Rim around 7:30 p.m., and it was already dark. That was an 18-mile South Rim to South Rim hike. Our 2017 24-mile North Rim to South Rim trek will most certainly end in the dark for a percentage of our intrepid hikers.

So, a head lamp is important—to a good beginning of all Grand Canyon hikes and to a successful end to many. Head lamps range in price from $9 at Auto Zone to +$50 at XYZ Outfitters. Whichever you choose, try it before the hike to make sure it works.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Peter's Secrets to a Great Hike

This is our third and final post on how to train for hiking Grand Canyon--this year from the North Rim to the South Rim--about 24 miles. Our expert hiker is Peter Blomberg, now at home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Peter has enjoyed hiking Grand Canyon since 2012. During his first hike Peter experienced heat exhaustion resulting in a stay overnight at Phantom Ranch. This incident fueled his interest in how to successfully navigate the "Canyon" in one day by finding the appropriate strategies of training, hydration, salt balance, food, sun blocking and keeping cool. Peter has successfully completed three rim to river to rim one day hikes in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Here are his thoughts.

1. What kind of training regimen do your recommend at the beginning--what changes do you recommend making over the next eight months--and what should the hiker be doing during the
Peter at Cedar Ridge on the South Kaibab.
month of September 2017.

The first order of business is making sure your body can handle the training and ultimately hiking the Grand Canyon. It starts with a visit to your doctor. Get a thorough physical to get medical concurrence you are fit enough to get started.

Start out slow. When you are young, you can hit it hard early on and maybe get away with it. For example, some people will put a 25-pound weight in a pack when starting out. The best thing is to work your way up to that weight over a 2-to-4-month period.

To start with, any type of aerobic activity 3-to-5 times a week for 45 minutes is a good way to go. If you are not at that level, start with 10 minutes and add 5 minutes of activity every 1 to 2 weeks. In 7-to-14 weeks, you will be at that level. Depending on where you live, this can be hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, rollerblading--anything you love to do.

Once you are in shape, add variety to your workouts.
  • Aerobic Training: Depends on your age and fitness. We have a couple family members who run marathons. They changed their training from running long distances to shorter ones (<12 miles) and adding sprints to the training 1-to-2 times a week. The result is they are running faster than they have their entire life. Think about that--you will have more endurance and hike faster using a training regimen like this.
  • Hill Climbing: Trekking up and down for 2 hours per session, 3 times per week will actually physically prepare you to hike the Grand Canyon, even if you do nothing more. That was my experience on my first Grand Canyon hike. I prefer to be in better shape than that. This is an absolute minimum. I recommend you go beyond this to long hikes once a week in the last 2 months prior to hiking.
  • Stair Step Training: This is a good added exercise. The emergency stair case in an office building is a great place to practice 1-to-2 times a week.
  • Long Distance Training: This is incredibly important. Not so much for the exercise, but for learning what works for you: Water/Gatorade hydration regimens, salt intake and foods and supplements that can provide these needed components. The Grand Canyon will be tougher than any training you do, unless you live in the desert. It is hot and it is dry. Hiking under these conditions means you need to know how your body responds to the intake of water and food.
2. What markers should a hiker aim for in the months before a Grand Canyon trek?
  • Month 1 - getting or staying in shape training
  • Month 2 - getting or staying in shape training
  • Month 3 - getting or staying in shape training
  • Month 4 - getting or staying in shape training
  • Month 5 - getting or staying in shape training
  • Month 6 - start your training regimen--aerobic 45 minutes / stairs 15 min 120 steps / 2-to-4-mile hikes
  • Month 7 - aerobic 60 minutes / stairs 30 min 120 steps / 4-to-8-mile hikes
  • Month 8 - aerobic 120 minutes / stairs 45 min 120 steps /8-to-15-mile hikes
  • Month 9 - aerobic 120 minutes / stairs 60 min 120 steps / 8-to-15 mile hikes

If you can do this, the Grand Canyon will be a "walk in the park."

Pointing the way into Indian Garden.
3. How can a hiker switch up his/her training so they spend the proper time on incline, on distance, on steps, etc.
  • Have a routine that varies your aerobics (hill climb/bike/stairs) and works the long distance endurance.
4. What three things are the most important in training for hiking Grand Canyon?
  • Hydration / Salt Balance / Food Plan - worked out so you can handle the heat and eat foods that work for you under stressful conditions.
  • Physical Conditioning - have a plan and work it. If you miss a day don't worry about it. Look forward and then do the next day's exercise.
  • Equipment - Hiking poles, sun protection, and a good hydration system - plus a back pack of adequate size to hold all your food, water and clothing.
Thanks, Peter! Stay tuned to this blog for more valuable information to prepare you for our September 2017 hike.

Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 Training Advice (Part 2)

Kevin's "happy rock" at the Canyon bottom.
In our last post, Jim Louwsma described how he trains for hiking Grand Canyon. This time, Kevin Wilde weighs in on preparing to hike the upside-down mountain. Kevin has hiked the Canyon eight times, often crossing it rim-to-rim-to-rim. "One of the best parts of my year is to train and do the Grand Adventure," says Kevin, who was a marathoner and an ultra runner. "I've slowed down a bit to enjoy God's creation as I get around," says Kevin. "I'm looking forward to my ninth Canyon hike and sitting a spell on my happy rock at the bottom."

1. What kind of training regimen do you recommend at the beginning--what changes do you recommend making over the next eight months--and what should the hiker be doing during the month of September 2017?

Stay active. Walk as much as possible.  Do more next month. Repeat.

2. What markers should a hiker aim for over the next eight months?

Hard to say. Generally I would set milestones such as small hikes and then build up. It's also important to make training friends.

3. How can a hiker switch up his/her training so they spend the proper time on incline, on distance, on steps, etc.?

I think it's 60 percent endurance and 40 percent strength/hills. Train accordingly.

4. What things are most important in training for hiking Grand Canyon?

a. Have a great attitude--NO MATTER WHAT.
b. Be safe and adequately train. Otherwise stay home.
c. Take good friends along for support and to share the adventure.