01 June 2015

Making a Dream Reality: Hiking the Grand Canyon - Day 4

On the 4th and final day of our hike we got up at dawn, had a quick oatmeal breakfast and hit the trail early. To get to the South Rim, we still had 4.9 miles (7.9km) and an elevation gain of 3,060 feet (933m) ahead of us. We had eaten most of our supplies during the last days which had made our backpacks much lighter. Thankfully!

Leaving Indian Garden Campground.

Prickly Pear Cacti along the Bright Angel Trail

The first mile or two felt comparably easy. I kept turning around, looking back at the foggy, mysteriously looking cliffs behind me. Then the trail became steeper and led through "Jacob's Ladder", an area of red rock switchbacks. When we reached the Three-Mile Resthouse at 4,700 feet, I was not unhappy to set down my pack, eat some snacks and enjoy the view.

View from Three-Mile Resthouse onto Bright Angel Trail.

Somewhere between the Three-Mile Resthouse and the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse we took another break. Any food eaten now would not require to get hauled uphill any further. So, let's scarf it up!

These furry guys were all over the place, waiting to be fed which is of course illegal and not advised, or hoping for us to accidentally drop some food. Well, they did not have any luck with us. Not on the trail nor at the campgrounds where we always kept our food secured in metal boxes provided at each campsite.

We had a nice view onto the upper section of "The Battleship", a massive red rock formation which lies at the base of Maricopa Point.

One last stop at the Mile-and-a-Half-Resthouse at 5,700 feet, and we were ready to attack the last remaining series of switchbacks.

Almost at the top of the South Rim: Guido, at the 275 million years old Coconino Sandstone layer which is also referred to as the "Bathtub Ring". Can you find him on the picture? ;-)

We made it!!
A total of 23.5 miles (37.8km) through the canyon, those additional day hikes not included;
A total descent of 5,761 feet (1757m) and an elevation gain of 4,380 feet (1335m).

So much planning, thinking and specific training went into this trip and now it is history. Although it started quite miserable and wet, we enjoyed it a lot overall. It all went very well, maybe except for two small blisters at Guido's feet and some minor knee and ankle issues. And although we are not 25 anymore, we had no trouble with such a strenuous activity.

Eddie, our guide, did an excellent job during those four days. Amazingly he never lost faith in the weather and that it would clear up. Finally on the last day he was right. If you consider doing such a guided tour, check out the Wildland Trekking Company. They also provide the camping gear, all the food and a shuttle from Flagstaff to the canyon and back. As we had our own gear from the trip originally planned in 2012, we decided to only use their sleeping pads. To hike the Grand Canyon individually and not with a group, I found the "Hikernut's Grand Canyon Companion" by Brian J. Lane very helpful for preparation. And the best thing after four days in the canyon: the first hot shower!!

On our flight back home Guido said that he enjoyed this adventure and would do it again. But in good weather! Aha, let's see. :-)

31 May 2015

Making a Dream Reality: Hiking the Grand Canyon - Day 3

Day 3 of our adventure started cloudy but dry and with a wonderful pancake breakfast. This was also the beginning of our 4,380 feet (1335m) uphill climb over the next two days. We crossed the Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge and followed the trail along the Colorado River for a while.

On the south side of the Colorado River, across the Silver Bridge.

Before attacking "Devil's Corkscrew", the first really steep and strenuous part of today's hike, we took another break and fueled up our bodies with snacks and water.

Guido getting ready for the "Devil's Corkscrew".

Yuri, posing and enjoying a leg-stretch.

Guido, leading the way on Bright Angel Trail.

Conquered "Devil's Corkscrew"!

Several mule trains came along our way. Yeah, what a nice option to get at least our backpacks hauled down and up the canyon. Maybe next time? But I certainly prefer to do the walking myself, unless I want to feel sore at other parts of my body.

Past the "Tapeats Narrow" along Garden Creek we reached the Indian Garden Campground. This place was so green and wet that it rather reminded me of Hawaii than the semi-arid Grand Canyon.

Eddie and Guido chatting at our Indian Garden campsite

I must admit that I normally prefer individual travels rather than in a group. I prefer to walk at my own speed and stop whenever and wherever I like to take pictures and to enjoy the view and surroundings. Yes, Eddie encouraged me multiple times to do just that. But nevertheless, I adjusted to the group of course as I did not want the others to wait for me all the time. The thing I enjoyed most of all at this guided trip was that Eddie took such good care of us. The food he prepared was excellent: tasty, diversified, healthy and rich. It even included some fresh veggies and fruits. We had pasta, burritos, filled wraps and on day 3 multi-grain pita flatbread filled with chicken-cashew-raisin curry. The one time we were not able to finish it all, we made our campsite neighbors happy with the leftovers. We also had dessert for each meal: dark chocolate or cookies.

Curry-filled pita bread for lunch.

In the late afternoon, we took off for a short 1.5 miles trip to Plateau Point. During hot summer months it is recommended to bring at least one liter of water for this relatively short hike and to avoid doing the hike between 10am - 4pm as there is no shade at all.

On our way to Plateau Point.

The trail ends at the vista point, 1,200 feet above the Colorado River and with a spectacular 360˚ panorama of the Grand Canyon. We were lucky and had the vista point just for us for almost two hours. We simply sat there in silence and absorbed nature's beauty.

30 May 2015

Making a Dream Reality: Hiking the Grand Canyon - Day 2

Saturday, May 22nd greeted us with a grey sky. It had not rained over night and it was cold, but we had slept well in our wonderful down sleeping bags. However, it did not take long for the first droplets to start falling out of the sky again as soon as we got out of the tents. After a yummy oatmeal breakfast we quickly packed up our gear and continued our hike on the North Kaibab Trail towards the south-southwest.

About 1.5 miles from the campground we took a side trail to Ribbon Falls, a beautiful little waterfall.

Ribbon Falls - hidden behind vegetation

The thick moss blanket on the rock underneath the waterfall proves that the water is running all year round. The little pond in front of it certainly provides a nice opportunity to cool sore feet in case it is hot outside.

There they are!

Resting near Ribbon Falls

To get back onto the North Kaibab Trail there is a shortcut that would have saved us half a mile. However, it crosses through a creek which can be knee-deep at this time of the year. At 100 F/38 C, I would have grabbed my Teva sandals, tucked up my pant legs and would not have hesitated to walk through the water. But our current circumstances were a little different, so we took the regular trail.

We took frequent breaks to eat some salty snacks, drink water, set down the backpacks and to stretch our legs. Eddie had brought "Glide", an anti-blister balm to treat hot spots in order to prevent blisters. Luckily, this was the only medical treatment that several of us required those four days.

Elliott treating his feet with blister prevention balm.

Eddie and Andrew peeking over the canyon map. 

Later that morning, the weather cleared up quite nicely for a while. We kept walking south-southwest for another few miles. The canyon walls started to close in on us and we got to an area called "The Box". In this section of the canyon the 1.4-1.7 billion years old black Vishnu Schist heats up a lot in the sun and it can feel like walking through an oven. It is therefore recommended to get past this area before noon. We however did not have to worry about that.

Crossing Bright Angel Creek,
shortly after Phantom Canyon.

After a total of 7.2 miles (11.6km) that day and a descent of 1,600 ft (488m) we reached the Bright Angel Campground around noon. Eddie treated us with some yummy avocado-bacon wraps and later we enjoyed a beer at Phantom Ranch, near the campground. It had started to rain again but by that time it seemed that we had gotten used to it. The rain did not prevent us from doing a nice stroll over to the Colorado River. As it got dark, we grabbed our headlamps and did a relaxing hike on the river trail which connects the South Kaibab Trail and  Bright Angel Trail on the south side of the Colorado River and runs between the Kaibab (Black) and Bright Angel (Silver) Bridges. Too many clouds though for seeing a starry sky!

29 May 2015

Making a Dream Reality: Hiking the Grand Canyon - Day 1

Hiking through the Grand Canyon - this was one of those dreams or items of my bucket list since we first visited this breathtaking location in 2004. I wanted to walk all the way down to the Colorado River, "listen" to the silence of this remote place, absorb its magic atmosphere and hopefully experience a stunning starry sky at night.

The most popular trails that connect both rims are the 14 miles long North Kaibab Trail with its trailhead at the North Rim (8,241 feet elevation) and those two South Rim trails: the Bright Angel Trail (9.5 miles) and the South Kaibab Trail (7 miles). For a map and additional data click here.

Our preference was to hike from the North Rim to the Colorado River in two days and then back out again in two days via the Bright Angel Trail. However, making this reality was easier said than done. In 2012, we were very close, had everything scheduled for doing the hike in June and every little detail worked out, but ... had to cancel last minute due to a family emergency. In May 2014, we applied for the backcountry permits again which are required for any overnight stay in the canyon, but got denied. And again in October, but got denied again. Finally, we decided to sign up for a guided tour in May 2015 with the Wildland Trekking Company. And bingo! Got the permits for the Memorial Day weekend!

On Thursday, May 21st, we flew into Arizona to met with our guide Eddie (the guy with the yellow hat) and the three others of our group: Andrew from Sacramento and Elliott and Yuri from Chicago. Early Friday morning we then got shuttled to the North Kaibab Trailhead.

North Kaibab Trailhead: Final distribution and packing of gear

Unfortunately, the weather was not in our favor: rain and thunderstorms in the forecast. And indeed, we had light snow at the North Rim and got rain showers as soon as we hit the trail!

Ready to take off!

In nice weather, the Coconino Overlook at 0.75 miles from the rim gives a beautiful view into Roaring Springs Canyon. Well, not so this time.

Pouring rain and thunderstorm!

Heading towards "Hell's Kitchen' and the Redwall Bridge at 2.7 miles.

With the ongoing rain the trail became muddy, slippery and harder to walk. Gosh, what if this would go on like this?! For three more days hiking and camping in the rain?

Guido and Eddie, not too excited about the weather.

After 6.8 miles (10.9km) and 4,161 feet (1268m) drop in elevation we reached Cottonwood Campground for our first night in the canyon. While we quickly set up our tents in the rain, the ranger greeted us with "Oh, you guys are lucky. Usually, it's 100 F and people are vomiting!"

To close the day, Eddie prepared some hot tea/coffee and stir-fried veggies with rice for us. Even a simple meal can taste like heaven! 

18 January 2015

San Diego - blue hour experiments

In addition to strolling through San Diego and visiting the zoo there was one more thing that we had planned to do in San Diego: experimenting with the blue hour and taking some night shots.

The first question was "Will we be allowed to carry the tripod in our hand luggage?" Or would we have to check it in which we really did not want to do. There are mixed answers in online discussions. Some people always check in their tripods because otherwise their carry-on would get too heavy with all the camera gear they bring. Others check in the legs of the tripod and carry the head in their hand luggage. Then, we read on the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) webpage that tripods - as part of photographic equipment - may be transported as carry-on as long as they fit in the overhead bin or underneath the airplane seat in front of us. Alright, there we go. And at least for these Virgin America flights from SFO to SAN and back we did not encounter any trouble.

The following four pictures are taken by Guido, obviously. He had to keep himself busy while I had engrossed the tripod.

Setting up the equipment

This part of the marina looked like a good location for some pretty sunset shots. So I thought. Well, I was wrong. At least on my pictures it looks like the sun simply disappeared behind the boats. That was it. I did not keep any of the sunset pics I had taken from this point. Lesson learned: it's important to have an unblocked view to the horizon where the sun sets in order to capture some nice reflections of the sunlight on the water.

Still hoping for a decent sunset shot 

But was all the waiting and "freezing my butt off" for nothing? Guido, who had taken some amazing blue hour shots of the San Francisco City Hall a few weeks ago, urged me to be patient. And indeed, about 45 min after the sun had disappeared we experienced some very beautiful colors by the remaining light.

f/8.0, ISO 200, 14sec exposure

A bit later the indirect lightning of the promenade gave it a totally different tone.

f/8.0, ISO 200, 80sec exposure

Following Frankie's recommendation on "15 best spots to photograph San Diego",  we explored the Crosby Street Park to get some night shots of the Coronado bridge. Well, the scenery must have changed somewhat since he had been there. The military ship on his shots was still there, but now hidden behind some ugly tug boats. Alright, after playing with the tripod placement here and there on the pier we managed to find a set up that we found decent. And again, I was glad to be fully equipped with gloves, scarf, hood, three layers of clothing and warm boots.

f/20, ISO 200, 60sec exposure

05 January 2015

San Diego - Zoo time

In general, I'm not really a fan of zoos. I rather want the animals to be in their wild, natural habitat instead of being locked-in and serving for human entertainment. Zoos will always argue that they help to preserve the planet's fauna and that due to their educational activities humans might better understand and appreciate the other living creatures.

Well, long story short, we decided to visit the San Diego Zoo at New Year's. This zoo is well-known across the nation and some even say it is one of the most beautiful zoos in the U.S. What I like about this zoo is that its 40 ha area is indeed set up in a comparably natural looking way with many small trails meandering through various "themes", AKA different continents and their inhabitants. The "Northern Frontier" also educates about climate change, the effects of polar ice shrinkage on polar bears and what each of us can do to limit our carbon foot print. (Not sure though whether the latter part of this exhibit receives sufficient attention!)

Ursus maritimus shortly after he had lunch

These two Mountain Lions also live near the "Polar Bear Plunge"

"Elephant Odyssey" and "Urban Jungle" (Afrika)

Rhino's New Year's cleaning?

White-breasted cormorants

Allen's Swamp Monkey

Homo Sapiens Sapiens and one of her favorite activities

Inhabitants of the Outback, Asia, South America, India

This Koala reminded me of the stuffed animal I had as a kid. It is one of - I believe - nine inhabitants of "Koalafornia" which opened in May 2013. Each of the Koalas have their own home tree including three heaters. They were not easy to spot, hidden behind leaves and branches. According to the Australian Koala Foundation's website that contains many more interesting facts about these nocturnal marsupials, they sleep up to 20 hours per day to preserve energy for better digesting their toxic, fibrous, low-nutrition diet.

Bactrian camel - not quite as handsome but certainly full of character

Guanako - too much champagne for New Year's?

Ganges-gavial crocodile, photo with courtesy of Guido