Posts Tagged ‘backpacking

27
Feb
19

Celebrating a Century of the Wondrous Abyss

My sister was moving to Las Vegas and my aunt, my dogs and I were helping move her from Michigan to her new home. Since none of us had ever been to the Grand Canyon, we made it a point to stop on our last day of travel. This was just the first of a number of times that this Midwestern girl has visited the abyss.

Standing on the edge of a precipice looking down onto layers upon layers of color, it was hard for me to comprehend those that described the Grand Canyon as “Eh, wasn’t impressed, it’s just a big hole in the ground.” or “Not sure why I would go back, I’ve seen it once, don’t need to see it again.” On my first visit to the great canyon in April of 2008, I was 30 years old, I could have sat on that edge until the sun went down and remained there until the sun peeked over the rim. I was in awe.

Mira enjoying the breeze on the South Rim in April of 2008

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Yukon as Bark Ranger on the South Rim in April of 2008

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Upon his first visit to the canyon in 1903, Theodore Roosevelt had similar feelings, stating:

“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison-beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world.  Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness.”

Shortly after (11/28/1906), the then president established the area he found so beautiful as the Grand Canyon Game Preserve.  Thanks to the Antiquities Act of 1906, Roosevelt was able to redesignate the canyon and the land surrounding it as a national monument on January 11, 1908.  In a further effort to protect this area of unparalleled beauty and splendor, President Woodrow Wilson again changed the canyon’s designation, making it the country’s 17th national park 100 years ago today on February 26, 1919.

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It took 8 years for me to return to the park, this time Mira and I making the trip down from Utah onto the North Rim.  We wound our way up in elevation, the landscape quickly changing from desert to alpine, huge Ponderosa pines towering over us, mule deer and turkeys roaming the road side.  It was a stark contrast from the hustle and bustle of the South Rim, hardly a person in the viewpoint parking lots despite equally majestic views.  The cool quiet enveloped us as Mira and I sat and looked out over the endless colorful towers and buttes.

After walking the quiet Bridle Trail (the only dog friendly trail on the North Rim) down to the North Kaibab trailhead, Mira and I went to find our campsite in the Kaibab National Forest, overlooking Marble Canyon and the Marble Plateau.  It was windy, the temperatures dropped below freezing and I had to zip Mira up into my down jacket, but we woke to a beautiful sunrise with nobody else around which made a little bit of suffering all worthwhile.

Mira and Me at Point Imperial – we had a great conversation with a German couple who then offered to take our photo.

Point Imperial Panorama

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Nice short hike on the Bridle Path

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Campsite on the edge – Kaibab National Forest

Looking out over the Marble Plateau

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Fast forward to spring of 2012, I again found myself staring out over the layered landscape.  Camping at Mather, the site was frequented by mischievous ravens and elk bedded down at the back of the site.  The next morning I woke before dawn to catch a bus to the trailhead of the South Kaibab trail.  I’d be taking my first trip below the rim, hiking down to Ooh Aah Point and back.  It was like a different world as a I traversed the rocky trail.  Standing and looking out from Ooh Aah Point, I knew I needed to return and traverse the canyon from the North to the South Rim.

Mira is always a hit with tourists at the South Rim (which for a national park is exceptionally dog friendly).  Such a little ham!

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Hiking down the South Kaibab Trail, its openness allows for some pretty spectacular views!

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Amazingly, I was able to convince my friend and coworker Amy to tackle a multi day Rim to Rim trip despite the fact that she’d never been backpacking in her life.  We nervously submitted our multiple itineraries in May of 2018 for a trip in September.  A couple of days later I opened my email to find out we’d drawn our first choice itinerary and that we’d be spending a night at Cottonwood Campground and another night at Bright Angel Campground before making the arduous journey out to the Bright Angel Trailhead.

Throughout the summer we trained with our packs, scrutinized our meal plans and got one backpacking trip under Amy’s belt.  We flew out to Las Vegas on September 13th arriving at my sisters late that night.  My sister followed us to the South Rim in a separate car, picking us up at the Backcountry Office parking lot where we dropped off our rental.

After visiting a few viewpoints, we started the long journey to the North Rim where we’d camp for the night before Amy and I started our voyage across the canyon.  We arrived after dark, my sister starting the fire and Amy and I setting up the tent.  We cooked over the fire under those towering pines, drinking in the crisp, high elevation air before we retired to the tent.  Sleep came hard, the excitement of the impending journey akin to what a 5 year old feels on Christmas Eve.

Amy, Me and Melissa (my sister at the South Rim)

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Dusk on 89A, heading toward the turnoff to the North Rim

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Melissa roasting marshmallows  and cooking dinner before bed.

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After a few photos and a goodbye hug from my sister, we started our hike at 6:40 AM, the temperature hovering just above freezing.  Over the next two days we descended into the canyon the temperature and scenery changing with the elevation.  After spending a night at the bottom we arose at 2:45 AM to start the strenuous hike out.  Looking down from the rim, one only sees desert, but the many folds of the canyon hide an oasis.  There hanging gardens on rock walls with beautiful orange flowers, bees buzzing back and forth, puddles in the middle of a muddy trail filled with tadpoles wriggling around in the morning sun and several alcoves with cascading waterfalls.  It took us about 10 hours to complete the 10 mile hike out and to the parking lot, it was physically and mentally grueling for us flatlanders, the last 3 miles feeling like an eternity.  But a few short days after we climbed out of the chasm, we were already talking about which route we’d try next time.

Amy and I at the start of our hike – the North Kaibab Trailhead

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Campsite at Cottonwood campground, our first night in the canyon.

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Amy waving up from the bottom of glorious Ribbon Falls

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Bright Angel Creek and Bright Angel Campground

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Amy looking down at the Devil’s Corkscrew that we just hiked up.

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A little waterfall cascading into a pool in a small alcove along Bright Angel Trail

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Looking back from where we had come, getting close to Jacob’s Ladder, the most difficult part of the day!

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Nearing the top, hiking behind a group of guys we had befriended on the way up.

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We made it, despite shredded feet, sore knees and sunburned lips!

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I feel so fortunate to have visited the canyon as many times as I have in my 41 years.  I dream of more excursions exploring the inner canyon and lingering on the rim, feeling like a raven with the wind blowing on my face.  I’m so thankful that our forefathers had the foresight to protect this wondrous place, that it’s not a private playground for the rich with the entire rim crowded by huge vacation homes.  As Roosevelt said, “The ages have been at work upon it, and man can only mar it.

 

 

13
Feb
19

April Adventure Part One – Pigeon River Country

April 12-13, 2018

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Four days off in mid-April during a winter that refused to end, what did I do? Well, for the first portion of the long weekend, I headed up to my parents’ house to drop off my injured Yukon (at the time we thought he had a torn CCL, more about that later). Then, I loaded Mira back up for an overnight backpacking trip to the Pigeon River Country State Forest.

We arrived at the trailhead parking lot at around noon and while wrangling an overexcited Mira, I crammed everything we’d need for our little adventure into my pack. We started our hike in a light drizzle with intensified as we made our way to the forest headquarters. The trail, already covered in 6 inches of sloppy snow and ice was made more treacherous, each step an effort. Thank goodness for hiking poles! Headquarters was closed so we took shelter on the covered porch, reading some pamphlets before continuing on the trail toward our destination for the night.

Getting started – Mira and me at the trailhead

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Made it to headquarters, slightly damp

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PRC is inherently quiet, but winter intensifies that silence, the only sounds being our footsteps slogging through the slush and the sounds of drizzle dripping onto my pack. Signs of the state’s only elk herd were all around us, huge rubs on trees along the trail, their large tracks icy along the slushy trail and large piles of scat (which Mira eyed longingly more than once).

Plenty of elk sign along the trail!

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By the time we reached the 10 mile loop cutoff, we were both exhausted, so I opted to leave the uppermost portion of the trail off and head west toward Section 4 Lake and ultimately the south end of Grass Lake where I was planning on camping for the night. Just past Section 4 Lake, I noticed some larger tracks iced into the snow that at a glance didn’t look like elk. I moved in for a closer look and saw they were made by a recently awakened, rarely seen, forest dweller, Ursus americanus – the American black bear. As I always do when I find slightly out of the ordinary (somewhat scary) tracks, I sent a photo to my mom so she and Dad could worry even more. I suppose it’s not as bad as my first solo fly fishing trip where, when I arrived at my campsite along Rock Creek in Montana, I found a mountain lion track in the mud and sent a photo to Mom captioned “Here kitty kitty!”

It seemed like forever, probably because both Mira and I had slowed to a crawl, but we finally reached the south end of Grass Lake and set up the small Kelty backpacking tent on the wet snow. Mira’s needs took priority, she was shivering and could hardly stay awake (she is 13 years old I guess, 6+ miles in slushy snow is a workout for an old lady). Wrapped in a down throw, she struggled to stay awake nodding off, but unwilling to give in a fall asleep. I made her some warm Honest Kitchen before heating water for my Mountain House meal. We snuggled in for the night, both of us still shivering so I filled a Nalgene with hot water and crammed Mira into my bag with me. Sleep didn’t come easy despite the added warmth, visions of rampaging bears filling my head.

Pigeon River

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Made it to the cutoff, time to head to camp!

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Bear!!!

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Tired old dog after a strenuous hike!

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Camp for the night

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Thankfully, we survived the night without slipping into a hypothermic coma or being eaten by a starving bear. After breaking camp, I was soaked and exhausted and so was Mira, time to head cross country and forego the top end of the loop. I broke trail threw the deep wet snow and Mira followed close behind. Powered by trail mix, granola bars (Tucker’s Carnibars in Mira’s case), we were back to the car in no time and heading back south to my parents’ to don dry clothes and rejoin our Yukon.

 

 

03
Aug
17

Into the Big Wild

For years I’ve dreamed of loading a backpack and wandering off into the wilderness to experience nature for more than just a day hike followed by a night of car camping.  An excessive number of hobbies won out and backpacking was kicked to the back burner.  Until now!  At the end of last year, I started thinking about how wild it would be to do a Rim to Rim backing trip in the Grand Canyon.  In December, my first real backpacking pack was on its way, an Osprey Aura AG 50.

Fast forward to the end of June, I had a few days off after the 4th of July holiday and was planning on hiking the Shingle Mill Pathway in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in the Lower Peninsula’s northeast section.  Home to the state’s only elk herd (along with many other of Michigan’s native flora and fauna) and the largest section of contiguous state land ownership in Michigan, it is a quiet retreat from the madness of city life.  I couldn’t wait to set foot in what forester and conservationist, P.S. Lovejoy coined the ‘Big Wild’ and decided to experience it properly, I needed to spend a night and walk the trails with a loaded pack on my back.

Lovejoy Monument – Pigeon River Country State Forest

Mira and I left AuGres (my parents’ house) in the morning for the short drive to the Pigeon River Country State Forest.  Driving east out of Vanderbilt I saw my first brown and white DNR sign indicating I was near, excitement mixed with a touch of anxiety welled up as I pulled into the parking area across from the Pigeon River Bridge Campground.

Over the winter I had read about the proper way to pack a backpack and practiced several times at home prior to leaving, my pack weight upon leaving the lot was 29 pounds with food and water (including Mira’s food).  Mira’s Ruffwear Singletrack pack was loaded with her Ruffwear boots, her food and water dishes and our Thermacell.  She was ridiculously happy to be tackling another adventure with me.  After snapping a few photos we proceeded to take our first steps of our backpacking adventure.

Time lapse of packing, realizing I forgot to load my hydration bladder, unpacking and then repacking :-)​​  **upside down until you hit play

Trying to get a nice photo at the start of our journey – Mira had other ideas 😂


Time to start!


While planning, I decided that I wanted to do the loop clockwise (no particular reason, my brain just likes clockwise).  Plans were quickly squashed when I failed to realize the loops “end” didn’t have a common point near the campground.  I continued on counterclockwise, toward the Pigeon River Country Headquarters and the next campground.

A few miles in, it became apparent that my pack was very ill-adjusted.  My butt hurt, my legs were uncomfortable and I had the sensation that the top of the pack was forcing my head forward, chin to chest.  Instead of stopping and attempting to fix it like a sane human, I continued forward, completely uncomfortable.  We only saw one couple and their young Brittany in the stretch from Pigeon River Bridge to the Headquarters, stopping for a minute to chat about dogs and bird hunting.  The forest’s solitude was proving to be blissful!  We made a quick stop at the headquarters building to read the pamphlets posted outside about bears, elk and fishing before heading toward the campground for a break.

Forest Headquarters


The Pigeon River State Forest Campground, while a nice little rustic campground, was definitely a stark contrast to quiet of the trail.  Families cooking on grills and bathing suit clad campers carrying inflated tubes were all bustling around, enjoying the nice (hot) weather and the cool water.  One such family stopped me to talk, they had a young Aussie at home.  They were curious about Mira’s pack and decided that their energetic four-legged family member should start carrying their own trail goodies.  I made a couple of stops at the river to let Mira wade in, get a drink and cool her paws before heading on.  We reached the 6 mile split and kept heading heading north through the pines toward the 10 mile split where we would head west to check out one of the area’s sinkhole lakes before making camp for the night

6 Mile Split

Photos of clear turquoise waters with downed logs drew my attention while browsing the internet during the planning phase of this trip, Section 4 Lake looked like a place I would need to stop and wet a line.  The lake which used to be off limits to fishing due to research purposes (these sinkhole lakes with no streams entering or exiting were perfect for studying) was now open to fishing during trout season for anglers using artificial means only.  Thoughts of catching a jewel colored Brook Trout from this stunning water made me pack my 6 piece fly rod and a small stash of flies.

After taking a steep, marked trail down to the lake, I tethered Mira in the shade and took my increasingly uncomfortable pack off to access my fishing gear.  The tree lined shores made fly fishing a tough prospect and while I saw fish rising in the middle and gave it a serious go, I ended up skunked.  Float tubes are allowed in Section 4, which would be an excellent way to better fish this body of water.  Begrudgingly, I stashed my fishing gear and wrestled on my pack (I was getting better at it, but it was still a feat) and started the final push to the night’s camping spot, the south end of Grass Lake.

Fishing at Section 4



I found the dispersed sites easily upon arrival and chose one further away from the trail with plenty of well spaced trees and access to water for Mira.  Finally, I could crack one of the beers I hauled in to celebrate our first successful day of backpacking!  After finding the two perfect trees, I strung the hammock and rain fly and laid a ground sheet under it on which Mira promptly crashed.  Dinner for the evening was courtesy of Mountain House, my favorite, Beef Stroganoff.  Dinner finished and Mira fed, I set about hanging a bear bag for the first time.  I’m sure it would have been hilarious for anyone watching and after many tries I was finally successful.

Mira, one beer in and crashed…lightweight 😜


Dinner time for Mira and me


In the hammock, Mira on top of me (it was 80 degrees out, perfect furry dog cuddling weather), I read until my eyes would no longer stay open.  The haunting sounds of the lake’s resident loon, the chorus of bullfrogs and the incessant buzz of blood sucking mosquitos lulled me into a deep sleep.

Hammock time with my little trail buddy 😊




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Found some blue bruising boletes while out mushroom hunting today. These are the coolest! #mushroom #mushroomhunting #forager #foraging #bluebruisingbolete #bolete #michigan #fungus
Rock climber 🧗‍♀️ . . . . #bluemerleaussie #instadog #aussielove #australianshepherd #australianshepherdsofinstagram #bluemerle #aussiesdoingthings #dog #aussielovers #doglover #dogsofinstagram #aussiesofinstagram #australianshepherdworld #aussie #hikingwithdogs #olddogsrule #seniordog #seniordogsofinstagram #upperpeninsula #michigan #adventuredog
Got home from UP at 1:30 Saturday, had my first wood splitting lesson at 2:00, lumberjack by 3:00. We’ve split three more piles this size between Saturday and Sunday and stacked in the woodshed. I’m gonna be ripped by winter!! #woodstove #firewood #woodsplitting #lumberjack #winter #countrygym #workout
With my past few dogs, I’ve taken a road trip with them shortly after bringing them home. With Mira it was moving my sister out to Las Vegas, her and Yukon got to visit the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, drove over Hoover Dam, hung out in Las Vegas, drove across the northern Arizona desert and through Monument Valley at sunset and hiked multiple trails in Moab. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ A week after I brought Cache home, we went on a multi-state road trip following the Great River Road to the source of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Minnesota followed by backpacking onto the escarpment in the Porcupine Mountains. Now with Mesa, we spent 6 days camping, hiking and fishing our way across the UP from east to west and back again. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ As with the other trips with new pups, our bond was solidified on the trail, on the road and by the campfire. I look forward to so many more of these adventures with this dorky dog. As always when I’m in the UP, my favorite memories from this trip were made on this beach at sunrise and sunset. I loved Copper Harbor, I love the Porkies but if I could only visit one spot, it’d be this beach with my dogs, waves crashing, the golden light touching their happy faces. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Some of Yukon’s ashes were scattered here, some of Cache’s will be scattered here and someday (hopefully not any time soon) when Mira goes, some of her ashes will be scattered here. . . #aussielovers #aussiepuppy #aussie #dogs #dogstagram #australianshepherdworld #australianshepherdsofinstagram #dogsofinsta #instadog #dog #aussies #puppylove #australianshepherd #puppy #puppiesofinstagram #dogsofinstagram #aussiesofinstagram #aussielove #cute #doglover #reddog #redmerle #redmerleaussie #adventuredog #adventurepuppy #bluemerle #olddogsrule #seniordog
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