Monday, April 29, 2013

Grand Canyon Countdown... 18 Days!

On May 18th, Maggie, Trish and I will be hiking the Grand Canyon, taking the South Kaibab Trail down to the Colorado River (4,750 descent, in 6 miles) where we cross the Kaibab Bridge and connect with the North Kaibab Trail (5750 gain, in 14 miles, with 4000 of those miles saved until the last 6 miles.)

For the last month, the three of us have been accumulating essential gear.  We are each buying what we know we will keep needing, and borrowing what we aren't ready to pull the trigger on.  We have all relied very heavily on the knowledge, kindness and supreme generosity of Dave & Jane Baumgartner.  They have a huge collection of ultralight gear and are willing to loan it to friends who will treat it like their own.  I don't know how we'd manage the trip without them.  They absolutely rock and I am super bummed that they had to pull out of the trek...

This morning Trish and I (along with our pal Michelle Silva) met at 8am, for the first gear test:  Hike up the Mt. Wilson Trail to Orchard Camp (7 miles round trip, 1800ft gain)  under full backpacks.  Our goal was to gauge our max weight, work the kinks out of gear, confirm our shoes and clothes, and start getting used to the trekking poles.  First off, I filled my pack to 38#, and while I managed it (just call me Sherpa for the day), I'll be doing the actual hike at 30# max.  Trish loaded hers to about 20# and swears she has everything she needs, so she'll get to carry more of the communal stuff, which will help drop my weight.  Unfortunately, this was the only day Trish and I could make this hike and Maggie had to work, but she has a great hiking buddy who's going with her on a gear test this Saturday.

We hit the trailhead at 8:30, and since I had the heaviest load, I set the pace... which was intentionally at a recreational pace to conserve energy.  While we were hiking Trish kept saying that she really didn't want to hold the group back and that it was okay for us to go on ahead of her and that she'd catch up periodically.  I told her that I fully appreciated her concern about holding us back.  I know EXACTLY what it's like to be the slowest member on a team, and told her to get over it, just like I had to do when I joined the Arrogant Bastards.  Our little threesome is just as much of a team as the AB and we will stick together just like our running team does. Non-negotiable.  Ironically, I was the slow one today, and she had absolutely no problem keeping up with me.

We made it to First Water in 55 minutes... almost an hour to go only 1.3 miles, wow.  The up note was that the time was spent getting used to the weight on our backs, while learning how to control our breathing with the unexpected pressure on our chests.  I found the trekking poles to be quite helpful on that climb, both for the external stabilization and absorbing some of the weight distribution.

Our first real rest came at The Rope where we were able to rest our packs on the ledge and cool off in the shade while we hydrated.  Speaking of hydration, I tried a new electrolyte drink.  Fizzy tabs from Endurolyte... Mango specifically.  It was really nice and salty with just a hint of sweetness.  PERFECT and much better than Nuun in my opinion.  The grape flavor was also quite good, but a bit sweeter.  Although, both flavors are still by far the most palatable of all the sports drinks I've found.  Most of them are almost too sweet to swallow without gagging.

It took about another hour to get to Orchard Camp (total climb 2:15), where we were finally able to drop our packs and take a good long break.  What neither of us expected was just how wet we were under the packs, and as soon as we stripped them off, we started to get cold in the shade.  Good to know!  When we climb out of the Grand Canyon the weather will be a whole lot colder and we will be a whole lot wetter, so we will be keeping our down camp jackets handy!

Orchard Camp is such a cool place.  While we were resting and eating, a runner came up, circled the invisible trail race turn around pole, and took a break to tell us all about the Mt. Wilson Trail Race coming up in May.  His enthusiasm was so contagious that I'm looking forward to racing it myself... without the burden of the 38 extra pounds!

I love having Trish for a teammate.  She has been completely geeking out for this trip.  She knows where all the good rest areas and water stops are, and has been watching countless YouTube videos with her husband Dave who just happens to be a seasoned backpacker.  In fact, Trish is so confident of her research that she has set a wager on how long the Rim to Rim hike will take...  max 10 hours, Final Answer.  I countered with 12 hours, but will be overjoyed if she wins the bet!   

We started back about noon, which was just perfect because the sun had gotten quite warm on the mountain, giving us at least a small idea of what was lies in store.  The return trip was also much easier in the sense that we had adjusted to the weight, and lightened the loads slightly by drinking and eating. Even still, it took 1:45 to get down the 3.5 miles.

By the time we got to the car, we were both amazingly tired.  It's definitely true that the extra weight on feet and knees has a huge impact.  I know I felt a degree of fatigue I don't normally feel unless I covered about twice that distance.  Yet another good lesson I'm glad we both learned!

Next thing to do is test my individual gear items... this weekend I'll set up the tent and PermaRest on the lawn and fill a few water bottles using the water pump from our fountain at home.  What fun.  The prep for the hike is turning out to be just as much fun as the big event!


  1. Ooops, Kellie. Sorry, the other spelling is a force of habit. :-)

  2. It is an Osprey Coroura, Womens Medium and weighs about 2 lbs.