Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A World Wonder in Our Back Yard

By Dave Aeilts
I was in the middle of receiving a back injection when my doctor, Peter, brought up his latest trip with his wife Stephanie. (I think telling me about his adventures is Peter’s way of distracting me from the pain of these medical procedures.) Every year, Peter and Stephanie leave their kids at the grandparents and take a “Remember Why We Married” trip. This year, that trip was to the Grand Canyon.

Staying on the South Rim, the couple stood at the Bright Angel Trailhead early in 2018 and decided to walk down a ways. As Peter tells it, the top of the trail was a little icy without Yaktraks®, but it got better as they descended.  They were so entranced at what they were seeing, they ended up hiking all the way down to the Three-Mile Resthouse.

I knew Peter and Stephanie had been to some amazing places. I recall him telling me stories of Costa Rica and other exotic trips during earlier procedures.  But as he described this visit to Grand Canyon, it was obvious he was overwhelmed.  “It’s an amazing place,” he said of the canyon, “and its right here in our back yard.” The physician and his wife are making plans to some day hike to the bottom and back up.
Hiking the South Kaibab Trail just after sunrise.
So what about you? Is 2018 your year to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim?

I’m one of several people who meet to hike Grand Canyon every year. We go as individuals who have decided to trek the corridor trails together.  Last year, we hiked North Rim to South Rim in one day. This year, we’ll start at the South Rim at 6:00 a.m., hike down the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, and then hike back up the Bright Angel Trail. It is 17 miles down and up, and the two trails we’re hiking are as different as night and day. I’ll tell you why in future blog posts.
Looking down the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim.
Thinking of joining us? Then I would encourage you to do three things:

1.       Visit our website at https://canyonhike.wordpress.com/,  sign up for the Thursday evening Feedbag (Spaghetti supper), and make  room reservations now. Rooms are short supply as the date for the hike approaches, but there is no shortage of great material on our website that will tell you how to successfully hike the canyon in one day.

2.      Read future blog posts at Grand Canyon or Bust. I’ll share the wisdom of experienced hikers on how to get to the canyon and back, what to pack, and most importantly, how to train for hiking Grand Canyon. You might even want to buy and read a copy of my book YOU CAN Hike Grand Canyon, which is available on Amazon.

3.       Start walking.
Recently, 9X Grand Canyon hiker Jason Womack asked his digital friend Alexa how deep the Grand Canyon is. She replied: The Grand Canyon is 6,000 feet (that’s 1,830 meters) deep.

To paraphrase Jason, “And YOU are thinking about hiking down to the Colorado River and back up to the rim in one day?  CONGRATULATIONS! Let’s get ready together.”

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Your Support Can Make a Difference

Many of you who are reading this blog post have hiked the Grand Canyon. For some of you, it’s still on your bucket list. If you have never been to the Canyon, you’ll be forgiven if you pass up the opportunity to support the National Parks Conservation Association. For those of us who have hiked Grand Canyon, please consider Chef Johnny’s plea below:

 TO ALL WHO READ THIS: Our next hike is Friday, September 28, 2018. See all the details at our website https://canyonhike.wordpress.com/, sign up for the Thursday evening Feedbag (Spaghetti supper) and make your room reservations now.
Here’s my friend Johnny:
This is a plea for your support of the National Parks Conservation Association.  The National Parks system has been called by many “America’s Best Idea.”  The Parks were set up and developed for all of us and for future generations of Americans to enjoy.  But the infrastructure and maintenance of our parks is slipping as the National Park Service budget has steadily declined over the years. Here are some facts to consider:
·         Almost 324 million visits to the 417 national park sites in 2016 (a 17% increase vs. 2011 levels).
·         Grand Canyon visitation in FY ’16 was 5.97 million, up 8% vs. the previous year.
·         Each Federal $ invested in the National Park Service generates $10 in economic activity.
·         The National Park Service budget amounts to less than 1/15 of 1% of the overall federal budget.
·         $11.3 billion in deferred maintenance backlog (approx. 50% for roads, and 50% for facilities).
·         The Grand Canyon National Park backlog is $371 million, including $80 million water maintenance deemed critical or serious. NOTE: The Grand Canyon Pipeline is the lifeline of the Grand Canyon.                              
·         Prior year appropriations have resulted in an 11% reduction in full-time employee equivalents vs. FY 2011 levels; a reduction of over 2,300 employees.
·         The president’s current budget request would cut an additional 1,200 positions, approximately 6% of current staffing levels.
The National Parks Conservation Association is doing great advocacy work to support “our” National Parks (www.npcs.org).  They will accept donations of any size, and very nearly all money donated goes directly to support our National Parks.  Donations are critical to supplement the funds needed to keep our parks pristine and available for us and future generations to enjoy.

I know you had a once-in-a-lifetime experience hiking the Grand Canyon.  It’s up to us to make sure others who follow us can enjoy it as well.

Chef Johnny Benavidez



Sunday, November 12, 2017

First Car to the Bottom of the Canyon

Throughout the summer and fall of 2017, Grand Canyon or Bust has had the pleasure of hosting stories by veteran hiker and camp cook Johnny Benavidez. Johnny has given me two more stories, and I intend to post them before taking a hiatus. In this post, Johnny tells us about the first car that drove to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Think that’s impossible? Read the story below.—Dave A.

By the time you read this, you’ll have completed your epic journey down the North Rim, across, and up to the South Rim.  I’m absolutely sure that you beat my time of +20 hours to cross.  You saw a lot of footprints, people, and mules along the way, but you likely did not see any motorized vehicles on your journey.  As you’re riding in the air-conditioned shuttle back to the North Rim or driving home in your own vehicle, you probably can’t imagine a car driving into the Grand Canyon. 

But, did you know that in 1914, a car was driven from the South Rim all the way to the banks of the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The trip was concocted as a publicity stunt.  L. Wing and A.K. Parker initially travelled from Los Angeles all the way to the South Rim of the Canyon, driving a Metz Roadster.  This was all done to promote the Metz Automobile Agency.  The car was a 22 -horsepower demon of a vehicle with bucket seats.  It looked like a go-kart with bicycle tires. 

The Grand Canyon leg of the trip began at Peach Springs on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, west of what is now Grand Canyon National Park.  The duo in their Metz Roadster bounced down the gorge over 21 miles and a mile deep, across a boulder-strewn terrain.  They drove over and around boulders up to 3 feet high.  At the end of day one, they encountered quick sand and boulders larger than the car itself.  They piled smaller rocks and brush against these large boulders and actually drove the car over them.  On day two, at around 11:00 a.m., they arrived at the Colorado River.  This was the first car ever driven into the Grand Canyon and all the way to the river.

Today it is possible to drive a similar route that has been vastly improved.  The Hualapai Indian Tribe offers River Rafting, the infamous Sky Bridge, and other amenities in this area now known as Grand Canyon West.
Yours truly, 
Chef Johnny
P.S. Next post will be my last one in 2017.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Overview of Our Hike

Chef Johnny Benavidez has taken us on a virtual hike from the North Rim to the South Rim. Now, just days from our real 2017 hike, Johnny shows us where we have been, virtually, and what we are about to accomplish in real life. Take it away Johnny.
Johnny near the top of the North Kaibab Trail, headed down.

You did it!!!  There are over 4 million visitors to the Grand Canyon annually. Of this total, less than 3% of these visitors actually hike into the Grand Canyon. Fewer yet hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim as you just did.  You should wear the title of “Rimmer” proudly.
Here are some of the bare statistics:  We hiked 23.5 miles.  We hiked 5,761 feet down to Phantom Ranch, and up 4,370 feet to the top of the South Rim.  That is over 10,131 feet of elevation change.  That is well over 24,000 steps.  Check that on your Fitbit!!

When you wake up Saturday morning, you’ll be very sore and tired from the hike. As you walk around throughout the day, you’ll be doing the “Kaibab Shuffle” or the waddle as I call it.  In particular, you’ll find it a challenge to climb up and down steps.  No doubt your bus mates on the shuttle will notice your shuffle and assume that you walked from the North Rim to the South Rim all in one day.  They will be duly impressed, as should you be!
The rest of this post is intended as inspiration or reassurance that you can and will be able to accomplish this hike in real time on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.  It’ll help get your mind in the right place regarding our epic hike.  Our group has been doing this hike for over 12 years now.  By my estimation, we have had over 150 hikers do this hike. Every single one of our hikers has completed the hike under their own power, meaning no one has been evacuated out.  I’m sure our upcoming hike will continue this streak.

I start every single RTR hike with a mixture of dread and excitement. I wish that I had trained more
Sunrise on the North Kaibab Trail.
or prepared better. But I always make it, and so will you.  That’s not to say there won’t be challenges; For instance, a few hikers have taken more than one day to complete the trip, and one member of our group (yours truly) did the hike one year in just over 20 hours (yikes).
Just to verify the fact that I did make it out, I’ll recount my story for you.  With all the difficulty and challenges that I faced, there was still plenty of trail magic, and a Trail Angel did make her appearance to me just when I needed her most.

Here is how it happened: Due to some difficulty with my water bladder I ended up drinking some poorly diluted Gatorade, which made me very nauseous.  I spent the rest of the day and night severely dehydrated and unable to take in any nutrition.  This made any progress on the trail painfully slow.  My good friend Ernie Martinez and his two sons were Trail Angels for me.  They walked with me, fixed my water bladder, lifted my spirits, and all but carried me out of the Canyon.  Without them, I’m thinking I might have been the first and only evacuee from our hike.
Tip #1:  When a problem arises, fix it right away.  If your water bladder is not working, address the problem now.  If you have pebbles in your shoes, stop and take them out.  If you’re getting hot spots on your feet, stop and fix it.  Remember the old seamstress saying “a stich in time saves 9”.  Tip #2:  Hike with a buddy, and commit to check with each other frequently on how they’re feeling.  A simple “How’s it going?” will usually suffice.

Rachel Louwsma with her dad, Jim
Now for my nominee as our Official Rim-to-Rim Trail Angel.  Rachel Louwsma has been an integral part of our Rim-to-Rim hikes for several years now.  I wouldn’t be able to put on our spaghetti feed without her able help.  In addition, she is always willing to shuttle camping gear from North Rim to South Rim for those of us who are camping.  This gear shuttle is where my nomination of Official Trail Angel comes in. 
On that epic 20-hour rim-to-rim hike, Rachel had agreed to carry our camping gear and meet us at the South Rim with it.  However, none of us anticipated that we’d get to the top of the South Rim at 2:30 a.m.--20 hours after we started.  How in the world were we ever going to find Rachel and our gear?  I didn’t know which lodge Rachel was staying at.

The first lodge we approached was the Bright Angel Lodge.  I asked the desk clerk if by some chance Rachel was registered there. He told me no.  I consider it divine providence, and maybe some trail magic, that somehow through their system I was able to find out which hotel Rachel was located at. Within minutes I was connected with Rachel’s room and heard the most angelic voice on the other end of the line saying “Johnny is that you.” 
Believe me when I tell you that even now, as I write this, I can hear her magical voice.  Ok, maybe I even have a tear in my eye.  Within minutes, Rachel picked us up in her car and delivered us to Mather Campground.  Despite all our challenges, Ernie, Joshua, Luke, Nathaniel and I made it rim-to-rim all in a day, thanks to our Trail Angel Rachel.

See you at the North Rim.
Chef Johnny

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Kolb Studio and a Famous Canyon Crash

Having brought us to the Bright Angel Trailhead, Johnny Benavidez takes some time in this blog post to talk about just two of the many sites we will see on the South Rim. He describes two unique attractions: a crash and a 75-year photography business. Take it away, Johnny.

Dave Aeilts & Pete Blomberg on trail below Kolb Studio.
 As you walk out of the Bright Angel Trail, the first building you will pass is Kolb Studio. This is arguably the most historic building on the South Rim. The Kolb brothers, Emery and Ellsworth, were pioneering frontier photographers.

In 1904, the Kolb brothers made an agreement with Ralph Cameron to build their studio on one of his mining claims. They agreed to charge $1 per head of livestock entering the canyon. This hefty fee for those days was paid directly to Cameron. The Kolbs made their money by photographing tourists on their rides. The significance of the studio is where it is located at the edge of the Grand Canyon, at the Bright Angel trailhead.

The Kolb Brothers ran a successful photography business from this site for over 75 years.
Kolb Photographic Studio on South Rim.
The Kolb Studio in fact predates the national park designation for the Grand Canyon. Some good words to describe the Kolbs are ingenuity, perseverance and character. For example, they initially used water from a cow pond to develop their film. Later on, they would make the trek to Indian Garden sometimes twice a day to develop their film. They used old mine shafts as rudimentary darkrooms, etc.

Only 32 years after John Wesley Powell made his historic survey trip through the Grand Canyon, the Kolb Brothers in 1911 and 1912 set out to recreate and film that trip. Against all odds and with rudimentary equipment, this film was completed in 1912. After a tour of the United States showing their film, the Kolbs returned to show the film at the Grand Canyon. The film was shown daily at the Grand Canyon from 1915 until 1976, with narration by Emery himself until 1932. The movie still holds the title of longest continually running movie in U.S. history.

The Kolbs had a long and contentious relationship with both the park service and with the Fred Harvey Company over concessions at the park. The most significant arrangement was that Emery Kolb was able to maintain ownership of the Kolb Studio until his death in 1974. At that point ownership passed to the park service. The studio is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Kolb Studio is a must-see if you have time. There are many iconic photos displayed on the walls of the studio, and there are lots of prints available for purchase.

Death in Grand Canyon
The next story is about a 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision. On June 13,1956, a United Airlines DC-7 airliner struck a Trans World Airlines L-1049 airliner while flying over the Grand Canyon. A common practice of the day was what was called "flight seeing" or sightseeing from an airplane. At the time, there was very little flight regulation and these separate flights fatefully met in the skies on the eastern side of the Grand Canyon.

All 128 passengers on the TWA flight, and all 53 passengers on the United flight perished. At the time, it was the deadliest commercial airline disaster in history. Due to the severity of the crash, no bodies were recovered intact.

On July 9, 1956, a mass funeral was held at the South Rim. Unidentified victims of the tragedy are interred in four coffins at the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery and many others killed are interred in a mass grave at Citizens Cemetery in Flagstaff.

This horrendous crash was a catalyst for change. In 1958, the Federal Aviation Act was passed, and the FAA was established along with a more comprehensive air traffic control system.

In 2014, the crash site was designated a National Historic Landmark. The plaque and memorial is located at the Desert Watchtower on the eastern side of the Grand Canyon. There is still some wreckage visible from near the Watchtower. As a bonus, the Desert Watchtower is one of Mary Coulter's iconic building designs--a must see. There is no shuttle bus service to Desert Watchtower. However, it is well worth the car ride to the site. If you are flying to and from Phoenix, you can take the east drive toward Cameron, and then to Flagstaff and Phoenix. It is the same distance as driving south from Grand Canyon.

Happy Sightseeing,

Chef Johnny



Monday, August 14, 2017

Conquering the Bright Angel Trail

Perhaps the most difficult segment of a North-South hike of the Grand Canyon is the final push. Exhaustion sets in toward the end of this long trek, and the air thins as the hiker nears the Bright Angel Trailhead. In this post, our guest blogger, Johnny Benavidez, guides us from Indian Garden to the South Rim, with a surprising ending. Take it away, Johnny.
The oasis known as Indian Garden.

When you arrive at Indian Garden (elevation 3,800 feet) you’ll have hiked 19 miles.
As mentioned in my last post, Indian Garden was originally the Havasupai Indians’ summer gardening spot. At some point, Ralph Cameron took ownership of the area.
When you start to see cottonwood trees lining the creek, you'll know you're approaching Indian Garden.  Mr. Cameron is responsible for planting all of the cottonwood trees in the area.
The National Park Service has stationed interpretive rangers at Indian Garden.  Their primary role is to insure your safety. In recent years, a husband and wife ranger team has been stationed here. One of them in her previous life was a singer in a famous European opera house.  If you happen to see a female ranger, perhaps you can convince her to sing for you.  It doesn't hurt to ask.
Take a long break, camel up, cool your feet in Garden Creek, and steel yourself for the trail ahead. You only have 1.5 miles to the next source of potable water, so no need to overload. Water weighs 2.2 pounds per gallon, so 1.5 or 2.0 liters will get you to the Three-Mile Resthouse. There are only 4.5 miles left of this glorious hike.
          As you depart Indian Garden, look up towards the South Rim.  Look closely, and you'll see the El Tovar Lodge.  It will seem like you're never going to get there, so look up only occasionally. 
You’ll gradually ascend through the Bright Angel Fault, followed by the much steeper switchbacks of Jacobs Ladder, before reaching the Three-Mile Resthouse (elevation 4,748 feet). Camel-up here. You’re almost out.
A few more switchbacks will bring you to the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse (elevation 5,729). Take a quick break and camel up. Like a horse heading home, you will probably be able to smell the barn (the South Rim) which, at this point, is only—you guessed it—1.5 miles away!
From the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse to the Bright Angel Trailhead, you will pass through two tunnels. The first is .75 miles from the top. The second is just .18 miles from the top. 
Before you pass through the second tunnel, look up at the cliff wall and
Ancient rock art
underneath the ledge.  If you look closely, you’ll see petroglyphs (ancient rock art). It is amazing to think that the ancient Puebloans, who were ancestors of the Havasupai, walked on the same trail you just hiked. That was over 800 years ago. They stopped here to scrawl a picture story for all who followed them to see. NOTE:  If you reach this point in the trail after dark, come back to see the petroglyphs in the daylight.  It will be well worth your time.
You have just hiked 23.5 trail miles down, across and up the Grand Canyon. In addition, you’ve hiked down 5,761 feet and up 4,380 feet.  Your total elevation change has been 10,141 feet. AMAZING!!!!  Almost like climbing Mt Everest!
Always be on the watch for trail magic: On a recent hike, the scene at left greeted my buddies and me as we made a last push for the top--a single cloud with a rainbow smiled over us and our Grand Canyon.  There’s something spiritual about that, don't you think?
In my next and final blog post, I'll tell you about some interesting sights visible from the South Rim. For example, in 1956 two airliners crashed while flying over the Grand Canyon.  At the time, it was the deadliest accident in U.S. aviation history.  More details next time on this and other trivia.  I’ll also offer some closing thoughts on our soon to be GLORIOUS hike.
Happy Trails,
Chef Johnny

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Up the Bright Angel Trail - To Indian Garden

Having described several canyon critters in his last post, Johnny Benavidez, returns to his blow-by-blow description of a one-day hike from the North Rim to the South Rim. In this post, Johnny guides us up the Bright Angel Trail from Phantom Ranch to Indian Gardens. Take it away, Johnny.
Now we’ll begin the uphill hike of our upside-down mountain—the Grand Canyon.

First, a tip or two: Did you camel-up and are you fully nourished? What works for me, as I walk, is to take a big sip of water every 15 minutes and to eat an energy bar, an energy chew, or a handful of trail mix every hour. I developed this routine after seriously “bonking” on one of my early hikes. Bonking, by the way, is when you are totally depleted of energy. You may be nauseous, and you most definitely have trouble moving up the trail.

If you decide to eat energy bars or energy chews, make sure you practice ingesting them before traveling to the Grand Canyon. Some people can't tolerate some of the products, and you will want to know this before the hike.

           As you leave Phantom Ranch, you can detour through the Bright Angel Campground if you like. There is potable water and restrooms on both ends of the campground, if you need them.

 Once you pass the campground, you will have hiked 14 miles and dropped 5,761 feet in elevation.  From the North Kaibab Trailhead, you’ve descended over one vertical mile. Do you feel it in your knees and quads? 

Next, you’ll notice the Colorado River and the two bridges that cross the river to the south.  When you see it, you’ll understand why the river is named Colorado, which is Spanish for red.  Here's a little history on the bridges. 

The Black Bridge
These are the only two bridges that cross the river for hundreds of miles. To the east is the Kaibab Suspension Bridge, more commonly known as the Black Bridge. This Bridge was built by the National Park Service in 1924.  The South Kaibab Trail and resultant bridge were built as an alternate to the Bright Angel Trail which was owned by Ralph Cameron.

  Employed by the U.S. government, 42 Havasupai tribal members carried eight steel cables one-at-a-time in order to build the Black Bridge. Each cable was 550 feet long, 1.5 inches in diameter, and weighed 2,320 pounds.  Thinking about this heavy load will make your pack feel lighter as you begin to hike out of the abyss.

The Silver Bridge
The Silver Bridge, on the other hand, was built in the 1960's to connect the Bright Angel Trail coming down from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch. The primary reason for constructing the bridge was to support the Trans-Canyon Pipeline which I mentioned in a prior post as the lifeline of the entire Grand Canyon.  You'll notice the pipeline crossing under the bridge as you walk on it. 

An interesting fact about the bridges is that mules and the mule trains will only cross the Black Bridge. Walking across the Silver Bridge, you'll note its meshed steel deck.  This spooks mules as they can see through the mesh to the rushing water below. The Silver Bridge would also be a tighter squeeze for mules versus the wide, opaque deck of the Black Bridge.  In any event, mules always cross to and from Phantom Ranch on the Black Bridge.

          Having crossed the Silver Bridge, you are now on the River Trail. You’ll walk 1.5 miles west, along the south bank of the Colorado River, to the River Resthouse. This stretch is very sandy. For greater stability, stay to the sides of the trail where the sand is firmer

Once you reach the resthouse, you may decide to use its toilet before pressing on. There is no potable water here. Consider soaking your hat, shirt, or bandana in Pipe Creek. It’s going to get hot.

          Turning south from the River Resthouse and away from the Colorado River, you are now on the Bright Angel Trail. You have 8.0 miles left in your epic journey.

The Bright Angel Trail was originally a footpath used by Havasupai Indians to reach their seasonal gardens at present day Indian Garden, which we'll pass through on our way to the South Rim.  The Havasupai and their ancestors began walking this path at least 13,000 years ago. 

For Northern Europeans, this route became known as the Cameron Trail, named after Ralph Cameron. He owned the trail and charged $1.00 toll to anyone riding or hiking into the canyon. He also owned the accommodations at Indian Garden and Phantom Ranch.  In 1928, the National Park Service wrested control of the trail and all accommodations from Mr. Cameron, who incidentally went on to serve as one of Arizona’s first U.S. Senators.

Beginning of the Devil's Corkscrew
We're going to be hiking up Pipe Creek Drainage, through the Devil’s Corkscrew (with an average grade of 15 percent), up the Tapeats Narrows (with a more gradual slope) and into Indian Garden.

The Bright Angel Trail winds up through Pipe Creek Drainage, crossing the creek several times. Some of the trail is shaded. However, the Devil's Corkscrew is 1.5 to 2.0 miles of very steep switchbacks. Most of the hike is along the west-facing wall.  If you get to this point after 11:00 in the morning, you will be fully exposed until you get to Indian Garden. Either plan to be at this point in the trail prior to 11:00 a.m. or be mentally prepared for a hot climb. 

Some rim-to-rim hikers strategically shorten their break at Phantom Ranch to 20-30 minutes, beat the heat through Devil’s Corkscrew, and then take a long leisurely break at Indian Garden.

I’ll cover Indian Garden to the top of Bright Angel Trail in my next post.

Happy Trails,
Chef Johnny