Oct 16

Rafting the Colorado River Through the Grand Canyon

Raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the spring with periodic stops to hike in remote locations along the way?  Yes, please!!!  And so I invited my friend Evelyn to come along and we made reservations seventeen months prior to our departure date.  Yes seventeen months in advance–these trips sell out early!  When I was researching companies I came across C.R.A.T.E. (Colorado River And Trail Expeditions) and their five-day spring hikers special, while only travelling through half the Grand Canyon, caught my eye as it fit my calendar and my budget.

So after church on Easter Sunday we jumped into my car and headed to Marble Canyon where we would stay the night and then meet up with the group at Lee’s Ferry on Monday morning.  Below is an overview of each day with some of my favorite pics.  Enjoy!

Day 1: Lee’s Ferry to North Canyon–20 miles

On Monday morning we met up with our group at Lee’s Ferry. There were two rafts motorized rafts called S-Rigs. The guide powered the raft from the back. Food and drinks for the week were stored below the deck while all our gear was loaded in the mid-section and around the perimeter. Each raft carried 13-14 people and we rode in the front on top of the platform using the gear bags as seats.

 From the very beginning the views were spectacular. The farther we travelled along the river the deeper the canyon became.  As it deepened new layers of the canyon were exposed. One of the crew members was a geologist from the Smithsonian who pointed out interesting details and gave short talks explaining the formation of the canyon.  Having never taken a geology class I found it fascinating!

The first day was fairly rapid free. When we pulled up on the beach to camp for the night the first order of business was to claim a sleeping location somewhere along the beach. Evelyn and I were a little slow getting off the raft so when we went to find a place to camp all the good, close places were taken.  So we had to hike a little farther inland  laden down with our gear bags and the promise of a more “wilderness experience”. We would not make that mistake again!

The company provided us each with a cot, foam mattress, a sleeping bag, two gear bags and an ammo box.  The first gear bag held the items previously listed.  The second gear bag was filled with our personal items.  The ammo box was for our carry-ons which we wanted access to during the day (sunscreen, camera, rain gear, etc.).  There were no tents. If it rained we had a sheet of plastic to put over us. Everyone slept cowboy style under the stars. This was a first for me–and it was beautiful!

Our first night wilderness experience–hoping no large critters would come slinking down the canyon in the middle of the night.

The crew cooked dinner (Salmon the first night!) and then we were off to bed. We fell asleep to the sound of the river under a blanket of stars.

Our guides and cooks.

Day 2: North Canyon to Eminence–mile 20-44

After breakfast the day began with a 2 mile hike in North Canyon. It was an out and back with a small pool at the end. Swallowtail caterpillars covered a small tree.  The cactus blooms were magnificent!

One of my favorite pics!

Once on the rafts we were in rapids immediately.  The first 10 miles (miles 20-30) were known as the Roaring 20’s. At mile 32 we came across Vasey’s Paradise where fountains of water burst forth from the rock.  It was so beautiful!

We had lunch at Redwall Canyon which was an amazing cavern filled with a sandy beach.

While here our friend the geologist pointed out some fossils…

At mile 39 we stopped for a short hike up Redbud Alcove.

At mile 41 we came across a group waiting for a helicopter rescue. One of the guys in their group had broken his ankle scrambling over rocks.

At mile 44 we pulled off to camp at Eminence. I decided to wash my hair that night and wow was the water cold–a scalp numbing 46 degrees!  Truth be told, this was the only day I washed my hair!

Day 3: Eminence to Carbon Canyon–miles 44-65

After breakfast we rafted a couple of miles to Saddle Canyon where we stopped to hike and eat lunch. The trail was a single track technical climb for two miles to a waterfall once blocked by a large boulder. The boulder was blown out by a huge storm providing easy access to the gently cascading water in the narrow canyon.

Another one of my favorite pics! Love this waterfall!

After lunch we rafted past the Puebloan granaries located high on the cliffs above.

I zoomed in to get this shot. the granaries were located high on the canyon wall. Native Americans used them to store their grain centuries ago.

At mile 62 we found the Little Colorado River to be flowing blue (after storms it often flows brown due to silt runoff). Since the water was clean we beached the rafts, grabbed our floatation devices turning them into floating diapers and floated through the small rapids in the warm water–so fun!

It was so cool to see the contrast in colors where the Colorado River met the Little Colorado River.

 

Evelyn floating down the river through the rapids.

 

That night we camped at Carbon Canyon where we had a view of the Desert View Watchtowers (sorry, no pic!).

Day 4: Carbon Canyon to Zoroaster–mile 65-85

We began the day with an amazing 4 mile hike in Carbon Canyon. The first mile required scrambling over an old rockfall. Next we hiked through a slot canyon with a narrow stream flowing through it. This opened up to an area where the rocks had been turned ninety degrees due to the fault lying below it. We hiked along the fault line with amazing views of the North Rim before heading back to the Colorado River at Lava Canyon.

At lunch we stopped at Tanner where one of the guys in our group who had been sick most of the time was helicoptered out. The afternoon was spent running numerous large rapids–I was drenched!  As I wrote earlier the water was 46 degrees so being baptized by a wave was quite an exhilarating experience.  We wore rain gear when going through the rapids to help keep us dry.  The platform we were sitting on had ropes which crisscrossed the mat wear we sat.  As we prepared to enter a rapid the guide would let us know if it was a one-hand or two-hands rapid referring to how many hands should be used to hang on.  I sat in the front and center so I took a few in the face–so fun!

 

That night we camped at Zoroaster.

Day 5: Zoroaster to Phantom Ranch–mile 85-88. Then hiked out to South Rim.

We had an early start and rafted the three remaining miles to Phantom Ranch. There were four of us getting off there. Everyone else was continuing on for another week to raft the entire canyon. It was a beautiful hike out and up covering 9.5 miles with 5000 feet of elevation gain. We arrived at the South Rim around 2:30pm ready for a shower, a real bed and dinner!

One last thing on a bit of an awkward topic but if you’ve read this far you will probably be okay with it. People often ask me what you do for a bathroom on a trip like this. So here is how it works. First, if you are simply peeing you pee right into the river. That’s right girls, we had to get our feet wet; so much easier for guys! For other business you used the “groover”. Actually you had a choice between two groovers. One was an indoor groover. The crew set up a little tent with a lined square box topped with a toilet seat and lid. In the old model there was no toilet seat thus the box it would leave a groove on ones behind, thus the name groover.

Then there was the outdoor groover preferred by most. For this one the crew would find the most scenic private location and simply set up the box with the seat. The view from the outdoor groover was the topic of many dinner conversations, “Have you seen the view from tonight’s outdoor groover?!! It’s amazing! You really need to check it out!” I know! Probably too much info but…people wonder about things like this!

Outdoor groover!

The view from the outdoor groover on the last night of the trip! 🙂

We had a great time and I would highly recommend CRATE to anyone who was looking for a company to raft with in the future.  The cost for our five-day trip was $1600 and it was well worth it.  The guides were very knowledgable and skilled.  The food was great.  The trip was well-organized.  And the people were a lot of fun!

Aug 29

Southbound on the John Muir Trail (JMT)

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So it’s taken me a few weeks to put this together, not because I haven’t been excited to tell people about the trip. If we grabbed coffee I could monopolize the conversation by talking about the trip the entire time. My delay has more to do with accurately capturing the experience. Just as pictures don’t often do justice to what our eyes see, so also it is hard to capture what truly is the most beautiful place I have ever been with words. So what follows is a simple write-up with pics that give a general idea of the immense, unspoiled beauty of the John Muir Trail. And if by chance you like hiking I would say, “Go see it for yourself!” (By the way, you might want to read this on a computer as the pics look far better on a bigger screen than they do on a mobile device—just a thought!)

 

Hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT) became a bucket list for me a few years ago so when my friend Amber asked if I would like to join her and her daughter Hannah and hike it this summer I jumped at the opportunity. We spent 10 months prepping for the trip as all three of us were green when it came to backpacking. Soon we were researching gear, attending REI Garage Sales, dehydrating our own food, taking a map and compass class, training with weight on our backs and incorporating some local overnight backpacking trips. I learned so much in preparation for the trip and thoroughly enjoyed the process.

 

For those who are not aware the JMT is ranked as one of the most beautiful trails in the US and the world. The trail begins in Yosemite Valley and ends on top of Mt Whitney—209 miles. Of course, you have to get down from Mt Whitney which adds another 11 miles bringing the total to 220 miles. Our plan was to tackle it in 17 days with a side-trip to Half Dome thrown in for an extra 4 miles.

 

Day 1: Happy Isle to Little Yosemite Valley—Mile 4

Our permit required us to stay in Little Yosemite Valley on the first night which meant we only hiked four miles the first day. Considering started, it was hot, there was a lot of elevation and we were getting accustomed to carrying a full pack, we were fine with the low mileage. The hike was gorgeous with great views of the falls. After we set up camp we spent the afternoon swimming in the river where a snake joined us—no joke, a snake swam right up to us! Crazy! Such a fun afternoon!

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This is where we were swimming when a snake came swimming up to us. Never had that happen before!

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Day 2: Little Yosemite Valley to Sunrise Camp—Mile 13.2 (plus a side trip of 4 miles to Half Dome)

We were on the trail by 7am and hiked 2 miles up to the Half Dome Junction where we detoured and hiked the 2 miles to Half Dome. We ditched our backpacks before the climbing got rough and took just the bare necessities up to the summit. It was beautiful and nice to be up there before the masses that would be coming later from the valley floor. After backtracking to the JMT we headed out to Sunrise passing through a really sad burn section in the heat of the day which we all agreed was “soul sucking”. We climbed most of Cathedral pass before calling it a day at Sunrise.

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Half Dome! The little specks are people climbing up the cables.

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A little yoga session on the top of Half Dome!

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Beautiful day with beautiful friends!

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The view going down the cables! The little specks down there are people!

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We called this the “soul sucking” section”. So sad to see it burned. Hiking it in the middle of the day in the heat made it worse.

Day 3: Sunrise to Vogelsang Trail Junction—Mile 29.4

What an amazingly beautiful day! We had some climbing and a technical downhill, but most of the day was spent hiking across flat and fast meadows filled with wildflowers, chipmunks, streams and lakes. Late in the morning we picked up our first re-supply in Tuolumne and filled our bear canisters with food. What didn’t fit in the canisters we gave to a group of teenage boys from the east coast who were more than happy to make extra space in their gear and pockets for our left over Snickers bars, etc. We headed back out to the JMT but we did not get far before the river began calling us. So we ditched our packs in favor of going for a swim. Eventually we finished up our day by camping at a great spot in view of the water where we encountered quite a few deer and a fawn. We fell asleep to the sound of the river in the background—so soothing!

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We stopped to swim here–so refreshing! Water was pretty cold!

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One of my favorite pics! We camped about 100 feet from here. So beautiful!

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Look close and you will see the fawn hiding in the bush.

Day 4: Vogelsang Trail Junction to Thousand Island Lake—Mile 43

The first couple of miles were flat and beautiful as we followed the river. Then the trail began to ascend and we climbed Donahue Pass. It was our first big pass at over 11,000 feet and it was tough but it was also stunning! Imagine rushing streams, pools of water, green meadows, wildflowers, huge vistas, reflective lakes, jagged peaks… So beautiful! We popped over Island Pass as well and camped at Thousand Island Lake.

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Another one of my favorite pics!

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Meadow near the top of Donahue Pass.

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Water crossing! 🙂

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Evening shot of Thousand Island Lake…

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First light shot of Thousand Island Lake…

 

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Sunrise shot of Thousand Island Lake. I love how the colors changed between the three pics!

 

Day 5: Thousand Island lake to Red’s Meadow—Mile 59

Another amazing day filled with lakes and rushing streams! But what was really cool was we had reservations for a cabin at Red’s Meadow which meant we had a hot shower and a bed!

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Such a cool reflection!

Garnett Lake...what I love about this shot is, if you look close, the patchy reflectiveness in the water. I did not notice this until I looked at the pic later.

Garnett Lake. If you look closely you will see a patchy reflectiveness in the water. I did not notice this until I looked at the pic later.

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Day 6: Red’s Meadow to McGee Pass Junction—Mile 76.8

We started with a relatively easy climb and quick pace and ended up startling a small bear which took off running the opposite direction on the trail in front of us. He was FAST! We were not sure if he was a cub so we slowed down just in case mama was around. We had planned on camping at Virginia Lake but it was too windy. We dropped down the other side and found a perfect camp site near water and without mosquitoes! Once again we fell asleep to the sound of a rushing stream.

 

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Virginia Lake

Day 7: McGee Pass Junction to Verillion Valley Ranch Ferry Boat Launch—Mile 88

We had thought it was going to be an easy day but we quickly learned there are no easy days on the JMT. We climbed up Silver Pass and then made the trek down a hard, exposed and at times treacherous descent to the trail which would take us to the ferry boat launch which would deposit us at Vermillion Valley Ranch where we had made reservations to stay the night. Our philosophy was to take every opportunity we had to get a real bed and a shower! The ranch put me in an RV so I had the “Rambler” all to myself!

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Small waterfall next to one of the crazy steep down hills.

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The Rambler! My lodging for the night when we stayed at Vermillion. According to their staff it is one of the most coveted places on the ranch to stay. Lol!

 

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My view from the Rambler!

Day 8: Vermillion Valley Ranch to Bear Creek—Mile 98

The ferry to get back across the trail didn’t leave until 9am so wanting to leave earlier we decided on a different route and took a car shuttle to what we thought was going to be the Bear Ridge Trailhead. However, we had misunderstood and had not researched the details and we ended up on the Bear Creek Trailhead. This trail led us to the JMT but it was three miles longer than we had planned which was a bit of a bummer. Hiking along the creek was beautiful and while most of it was pleasant there were some brutal climbs. Bear Creek was one of a couple of stream crossing where you had to get wet—there was no dry way to get across. We plunged into the water and then found a place to camp. It was the one night when we had a lot of mosquitoes so it was an early to the tent kind of night.

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Bear Creek. The water in all of the lakes and streams was so clear you could see every rock and fish.

Day 9: Bear Creek to Muir Trail Ranch—Mile 107

If climbing a pass could be considered easy then climbing Seldon Pass would fit that description.  It  was also stunning as we passed through beautiful meadows with gurgling streams, clear mountain lakes, wildflowers, pine and fir trees. The only rough piece was the cut-off trail we took to Muir Trail Ranch where, you guessed it, we had a bed, shower, HOT SPRINGS and an amazing home cooked meal cooked by a gourmet chef waiting for us. Prime rib, veggies, black beans, salad, homemade bread with roasted garlic, dessert—it was awesome! As was soaking in the hot spring!

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Marie Lake

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I LOVED this section! It was one of the few flat parts we encountered.

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Cabins at Muir Trail Ranch. They may not look like much but they were luxurious compared to our tents.

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Picking up our resupply. Hikers mail home depot buckets filled with food to this ranch and pick it up when they come through so they have food for the next section of their hike.

Hot Spring

HOT SPRINGS!!!

 

 

Day 10: Muir Trail Ranch to above Evolution Falls—Mile 117

The cook at MTR made breakfast in the morning as well (yay for not having to eat oatmeal again!)! We picked up our second resupply and my packed topped out at 43 lbs—way more than the 30lbs I was hoping to carry! We had a beautiful, fairly easy day hiking along the San Joaquin River. Eventually we crawled up a steep climb which brought us to Evolution Falls which, of course, was amazing! We crossed Evolution Creek up above the falls and found a camp site about a mile up the trail. It was at this point that we realized how bad the blisters were on one of our teammates feet. We had all had a couple of blisters but she had about 15 of them and they were raw and not healing. The next part of our trip would be taking us into some very remote country where getting medical treatment would be very difficult. An infection in your feet in the backcountry is a bad idea. Rather than chance it we decided the best thing to do would be to hike out and cut the trip short.

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Evolution Falls

Day 11: Evolution Falls back to Muir Trail Ranch and then one mile toward Florence Lake

We had our only thunderstorm in the morning which we waited out in our tents. Then we headed back to MTR where we were able to get an email out to Amber’s husband that we were going to need a ride home. We hiked one more mile toward Florence Lake before setting up camp.

 

Day 12: Florence Lake

Our alarms went off at 4:30am and you have never seen a group of women move so fast. When we were focused on finishing the JMT we were fine with the whole camping, no shower thing. But as soon as we knew we were leaving early we were all about packing up and getting out and back to our real beds and showers. We hiked four miles to Florence Lake where we waited for a small ferry to come pick us up. Once we arrived on the other side of the lake we simply hung out while talking to a cool family from France and waited for our ride home. The ride home was long (8 hours) and a little concerning. The first 26 miles was on a single lane road, with sheer drop-offs and traffic going both ways! Glad I was not driving! Of course we had to make two stops on the way home. One for Mexican food and one for Starbucks! 🙂

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Waiting for the ferry to pick us up.

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Looking back at where we have come.

So we didn’t finish the JMT but it was the right decision.   The trail will always be there and being healthy and safe is first priority. What we saw and experienced in the first half was absolutely incredible!!! It was an amazing trip and I will be going back so watch for part two of the JMT post in the summer of 2017!

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They served me well! La Sportiva Bushidos!