A few short ones in RMNP: Thunder Lake, Lily Mountain, Estes Cone

While in Colorado last week for a reunion with some of my favorite people in the world (fellow Peace Corps volunteers in the Central African Republic), we managed to tack on a quick overnight, and some other short hikes in/around Rocky Mountain National Park without having to wrestle with the very crowded Beaver Meadows entrance.

250px-Thunder_Lake_Patrol_CabinFirst, Karen and I did a quick hike 6.8 miles up to Thunder Lake, pleasant walking on a well-established trail. Being the first day away from home (200′ elevation), the last mile or so above 10,000′ had the lungs working overtime as we raced to beat the potential thunderstorms. The thunderstorms came, but we didn’t bear the brunt of it. Because of a permit mix-up at the RMNP office, we got the stock campsite, very nice, quiet, and closer to Thunder Lake than the others.  On the way back the next morning, we stopped by Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascade.


With the full group in place, we wanted a couple of quick hikes that didn’t take away too much of our time together. The first day, as others were acclimating, we strolled the 3.8 mile RT trail up Lily Mountain, with a fun scrambly bit at the top. This was finished with a quick drive into drive from some whisky drinks, vodka drinks, and lager drinks at the iconic Stanley Hotel.

Scott, John, and I decided to round out the trifecta with a quick 3.7 miles (one way) walk up Estes Cone to crack the 11,000′ mark. And it was pretty quick, at about and hour and 20 minutes to the summit. There we had a great 360-degree view of the area including the Long’s Peak diamond, I got to school a couple of youths about rock-throwing etiquette (i.e., don’t), and Scott and John sat by and watched as I watch ambushed by a chipmunk. After cheese, crackers, and a summit soda, we trotted back down to continue the festivities.

Lovely. You don’t have to do a 14’er every time, and you don’t have to look too hard to avoid the crazy traffic in the park.

Cheers!

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6 Day (or 6.5 Day!) Tour de Mont Blanc Itinerary

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Refugio Elisabeta, a wonderful oasis after my shortest day of the day, and home of risotto, wine, cheese, oatmeal stout, and the gracious Marta

I walked around Mont Blanc (read a bit more narrative and see some pictures). Here are my thoughts on how to cover the TMB in 6 or 7 days. Your mileage may vary. And there are lots of ways to slice and dice this. (And here are some TMB gear recommendations.)

This was done at the end of June with the longest days of the year, and a couple weeks before the crowds really take over, so I made no reservations and always had great flexibility to go the distance I felt like.

Day 0

Stay at Hotel Slalom www.hotelslalom.net 44 rue de Bellevue, Les Houches. +33 (0)4 50 54 40 60. Nice place, and VERY convenient to the traditional start/finish of the TMB (the old start is literally right across the street. The new start, maybe 100m up the road. The owner, Tracey is extremely helpful and accommodating—and served the best breakfast of the week (both times).

Day 1

The plan: from Les Houches to Refuge De La Croix Du Bonhomme – 29km – 10-11 hours book time. Actual time about 10.5 hours, with a very long lunch (over an hour) in Les Contamines.

This worked pretty well, even with the nasty weather for the last few hours, rain followed by snow as I gained elevation. A decent place to pull up short would be Refuge de la Balme, allowing you to sleep lower your first night. (Or if you’re itching to move, push forward to Les Chapieux.

Day 2

The plan was to take the variant via Col des Fours to Ville des Glaciers and on to Refugio Elisabeta. (about 17m and 6-7 hours.) However, fresh snow and visibility dropping down to a couple meters, combined with my inappropriate footwear, made that less then prudent. (Two very fast hikers did take the route—these guys flew by me after—and it took them ~2 hours longer than expected, navigating one step at a time by GPS, with visibility about 1-2m and no signs of markers/footprints.)

Instead, I walked the main route down to Chapieux and then back up to Elisabeta. 22km, 8 hours book time. This was my easiest day, despite the fact that it was also the day that I felt the acclimatization/elevation issue the most—I walked more slowly than normal for me, and still made Elisabeta in about 6.5 hours.

I LOVED Refugio Eliabeta. Food and drink were awesome. Nice house wine. Nice craft oatmeal stout. Marta was a gracious host. That said, the were 12 guests that night. Capacity, which they hit in busy season is 90. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much with 89 other guests crammed in. I might have pushed on to Courmayeur.

Day 3

The plan was to haul ass to lunch in Courmayeur  (18km/5 hours) and then on to Refugio Bonatti (12km/4.5 hours) for a 30 km/9 hours day. I took a long lunch in Courmayeaur—could have spent a couple days wandering around there. I also took about a 45 minute delay at Refugio Bertone, grabbing a cup of coffee, and waiting to see what the weather was doing. A thunderclap just before Bertone, didn’t lead to anything, and I continued to Bonatti.

Bonatti is well-run, and the hosts are great. Since locals can hike up from the road in about 30 minutes, they do, and it was crowded, even in the pre-season. I’d probably push on to Refugio Elena which was a pretty easy 7km past Bonati, giving me more options on the remaining days.

Day 4

Head to La Fouly for lunch, book time, 20km/6 hours, and on to Champex (15km/4 hours). (This was a back-up stopping point, depending on how the previous days had gone–but not needed.)

Even with the bad weather slog up and over Grand Col Ferret, my new-found hiking partner and I made it to La Fouly in 5 hours. We were pretty close to book time for the continuation to Champex.

Stayed at the Pension En Plein Air. Food was OK. Showers were awesome! Long and hot!

Day 5

This was to have been a very big day. Champex – Fenêtre d’Arpette – Col de la Forclaz (14km/6.5 hrs) Quick lunch and on to Tré-le-Champ (13km/5 hours), and then energy permitting, another 6km to Refuge du Lac Blanc.

But my trail companion and I made some weather related decisions, decided to head for the Refuge du Col du Balme, and then continued on to Montroc when the Refuge was closed (and the Auberge la Boerne was full.) This was about a 10-hour day, with some extra walking back and forth between Montroc and Tré-le-Champ because of poor signage and a not sufficiently detailed map.

Day 6

This would have been a hike out from La Blanc to Les Houches. (20km, 8hrs) But having decided the day before to add a ½ day, the new target became Refuge de Bellachat. With bad weather, very poor visibility, and poor trail markings, we opted not to take the standard route over Le Brévent. Instead, we took a lower down and up alternative to Bellachat—this turned into a long day with about 10 hours of walking through rain and mist with a leisurely lunch at La Flégère in the middle.

We arrived at Bellachat prior to its opening for the season, but having phoned ahead, we knew they’d accept us as the only two guests that night. What a great view of the Chamonix valley, Mont Blanc, and the Bossons glacier right off the deck. Bellachat is a simple refuge, but what a view!

In good conditions, the hike from Lac Blanc to Les Houches would be pretty fast and easy.

Half-Day 7

This was a bonus day. And glad I waited for the clouds to clear. Rather than the simple 7km/2.5 hours walk down to Les Houches, I added a ridge walk up from Bellachat to get some better views, and then a more meaning path down. This added ~3km and an hour or so, but it was worth it.

Spent another great night at Hotel La Slalom before catching an early shuttle back to Geneva for the flight home.

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Mike’s TMB Gear List – June to September

TMB MarkerHaving just walked the Tour de Mont Blanc, I thought I’d share gear recommendations.

You’ll find it easier walking 110 miles (170 kilometer) up and down through mountain passes if you keep your gear light. And on the TMB, you’ll have ready access to shelter, beds, and food, so you don’t have to carry that stuff (unless you want to).

This list should work from mid-June to mid-September, but do check the weather forecasts. If you’ll have extended periods below freezing or are expected to be walking through heavy snow for longer periods, you may need another warmer layer and heavier footwear. With care, you can easily keep your pack weight below 15 lbs (7kg) without the need for a lot of expensive gear—pretty much all you need to carry is extra layers, clean clothes for the evening, and a few sundries.

Sound like too little? On my trip, I bumped into several runners, completing the TMB in 4 days, with even smaller/lighter packs.

This is a gear list for those who intend to stay in refugios/hotels, rather than camping.

Gear

  • Pack. Think roughly a 30L pack. If you get much bigger, you’ll start finding other stuff to put in. So don’t get a bigger pack! Bigger than 40L? You’ll probably fill it, and now you no longer have a light pack. Use something that fits you well and is comfortable. Get an HMG Windrider 2400, and your pack is waterproof. Otherwise, I prefer a trash compactor bag in the pack rather than a pack cover. If you’re not in the market for an expensive bag, look at the Osprey Exos 38 or similar.
  • Boots/Shoes.  I don’t think you need boots. (As someone who hiked for yers with bad ankles, I also don’t think boots helped with ankle support.) Even if there will be some snow. Get a good, comfortable hiking shoe with GoreTex surround. (I’m not normally a fan of GoreTex in footwear…but with a good chance of rain and snow, they’re worth it here.) Don’t use a lightweight trail runner unless you’ve absolutely kept your gear weight down—and you’ve tried hiking the ups/downs in them, with your weighted pack. See for example, La Sportiva Primer Low GTX, North Face Ultra, or Salomon Ellipse GTX.  
  • Sleep sack. A comfortable silk sleep sack for the refugios.
  • Hiking Poles:  I like two, Leki Corklite. Smaller people will like lighter carbon poles better. (Some people don’t use them at all—I like them for uphill and downhill alike.)
  • T-Shirt. Not cotton. Just one You do not want to carry too much.  Weight is your enemy.  And we won’t notice the smell! I really like wool (Smartwool, Ibex, Icebreaker). Rinse your hiking shirt out at the end of the day (it will dry quickly) in your hotel/refugio (where permitted), and put on your clean shirt for hanging out sleeping. Change back before you start hiking in the morning.
  • Long Sleeve Top, wool or synthetic.  Again, just one. Lightweight. It the forecast calls for warm temps, I bring instead a second T-shirt and a pair of sleeves like cyclists use.
  • Rain Parka—Light shell, per your taste. I like GoreTex, with pitzips and pocket vents.
  • Rain Pants. Marmot Precip are a good, light, value choice.
  • Fleece Jacket or light down sweater, with hood. You do need to be prepared for snow, even in the summer.
  • Tights (or long johns). One pair—These are my post shower pants. In warmer temps, I’l omit these for a very light second pair of shorts. This is extra weight—but a nice comfort item when staying in the refugios/hotels.
  • Shorts. one pair. This is want I hike in, down to freezing. If it’s cold or nasty, pull on the rain pants.
  • Light gloves, preferably waterproof. Optional: add a waterproof over-glove.
  • Two pairs. One pair to walk in. One pair for the refugio. Fast-drying so you can rinse and reuse!  (Rinse the walking pair in your shower.) I’m partial to wool, but go with one of the synthetics if you like ‘em.
  • Socks. Two pair, plus a light liner pair. Again, a pair to walk in, a pair to rinse. Liner as a spare or if you think blistering is a problem. (Get the right shoes, and it shouldn’t be!) I prefer wool. NOT COTTON.
  • Hat with brim. Long sunny stretches (or long rainy stretches)
  • Warm Hat. Nice for cooler nights, and emergency backup. Or one of the adapted head/neck gaiters.
  • Bandana. Cotton—multiple uses.
  • Wristwatch. If you want…helps coordinate meet up stops and just useful to know how long you’ve been going to help gauge distance.
  • Flashlight, preferably LED headlamp. With fresh batteries in light.
  • Duct tape. several feet wrapped around your trekking pole or water bottle, or folded into a small rectangle. Also a small role of coaches tape.
  • Any special meds, and maybe a micro first aid-kit/emergency kit…., just a few Advil/allergy/bandaids..
  • Emergency Blanket. Mylar or similar. I don’t think you should backpack in the mountains without one. If you, or someone else gets injured or stranded, this could make a big difference. a few oz. piece of insurance against unexpectedly very cold weather in a sleeping bag or wrapped between clothes. Also a signal device in an emergency. A must-have.
  • And guide book if you want. I used Kev Reynolds two-way guide, but careful cut out the direction I wasn’t using and some of the supplemental material. Definitely helpful at a few confusing spots along the way. And a nice aid to plan your day.
  • Passport, credit card/ATM card, and cash.
  • Toothbrush/Paste: A small tube of paste. Small soap/shampoo. And any other toiletries—but don’t go overboard. Blistex or something to keep the lips soft
  • Small tube, high SPF factor. You don’t want to carry the 16oz bottle. Pay a couple extra dollars for the small amount.
  • Toilet Paper/hand cleaner/Ziploc bag to pack out your toilet paper if needed. A few small stuff sacks and Ziplock Bags: Keep your stuff dry and organized.
  • Water Bladder/bottles. You shouldn’t need to carry more than 2 liters. Bring some tablets to treat water in an emergency.
  • A few ounces of snack food—you can replenish as you good, especially if you like bread and cheese.
  • OPTIONAL: Knife/Swiss Army Knife/Leatherman:  I carry a micro leatherman.
  • OPTIONAL: Camera. If you want. Can use smart phone, which can also hold a backup map. If you bring a smart phone, bring a way to charge it. (Refugios generally have a few outlets you can jockey for…but you may need an adaptor.
  • OPTIONAL: Pen/Pencil/Paper/Book. (Another use for your smartphone.)
  • OPTIONAL: Traction device, which you may carry or not, depending on conditions. If you plan to camp.

Camping Gear—Only If You’re Camping!

  • Tent, tarp, or Bivvy sack.
  • Sleeping Bag—appropriate for season
  • Sleeping Pad.
  • Stove/Pot, if desired.
  • Bowl/Cup, spoon, if desired.

If it’s not on this list, and you think you need it, reconsider. Chances are you don’t need it. And you don’t want to carry extra weight. Extra weight is bad.

Don’t Bring

  • A lot of extra stuff “just in case”
  • Too many extra clothes—any extra is probably too much!
  • A 42 pound sleeping bag.
  • Camping stuff if you’re not camping.
  • More food than you need–and remember, you can buy food along the way, often every few hours.
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The Tour de Mont Blanc (or how much risotto could a woodchuck eat if a woodchuck could eat risotto?)

Irises around Mt Blanc

On the final day, I glimpse of what I thought the walk of the Tour de Mont Blanc would be…

There are different kinds of challenges. Sometimes you might want to see how much scuba gear you can carry through the desert. Other times, you want to see how the newbies fare on long Grand Canyon hike.

After my friend Joe pointed me to an article on the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB), I decided that in might be an interesting challenge to see how much wine and cheese (and risotto and lasagna and…) I could consume while hiking through the mountains.

The answer is, as it turns out, a lot!

The TMB is a 110-mile loop around the tallest mountain, really the Mont Blanc massif, in Europe, featuring beautiful views, tranquil lakes, and alpine villages, passing through France, Italy, and Switzerland on the way. Or, as I did it, a 120-mile loop, through rain, snow, and mist, with visibility occasionally dropping down to a couple of meters. The “normal” itinerary is 11 days, but needing to fly to Chicago, I didn’t have that much time, so I planned on 6 days. (I wound up opting to take 6.5 days…with a glorious bit of sunshine and some of those views on the last half-day!)

The hike is generally on well-maintained trails, and often roads, more roads than I’d imagined. While camping is possible, there are a series of Refuges/Refugios and villages where most people sleep. The trail is generally obvious and well-marked, although on occasion some critical junctions aren’t posted, and the route can be less obvious when walking through town. The refugios worked well for me, but I think this is mainly because I went before the main season so they weren’t crowded. I suspect the nasty weather kept even more people away.  I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much with the crowds.

For example, the Refugio Elisabeta, parked at 7,200′ (2195m), with views of views of Mont Blanc, the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey and the valley below, was delightful. The mushroom risotto was amazing–and you’d better believe I embraced the offer for seconds. Our host Marta was delightful. And both the house wine and the surprising Italian microbrew (an oatmeal stout), were delicious. But the Refugio only had 12 guests that night–it has a capacity of 90, and often hits that during busy season. I had a room to myself, and it wouldn’t have been as nice sharing it with a bunch of other stinky people. (Yes, some people might like that, though.)

This certainly isn’t a wilderness experience, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an enjoyable hike. There is the potential for a good deal of elevation gain and loss, especially if you stretch the miles each day, and some of the high passes can challenge the lungs of someone who lives near sea level. And inclement weather can add an element of excitement.

For example, near the end of a long first day, not at all acclimated to the elevation, and already wet hours of downpour, I started walking up the Col du Bonhomme, in the snow, in my mesh approach shoes. The temps dropped below freezing. The rain turned to snow. The visibility dropped. At the top of the col, I entered a small warming hut to get out of the wind and wring out some wet clothes. Inside the hut were a couple Israeli guys, one of them in full-body shivering mode. They didn’t know what they were getting into. I encouraged him to take off all his wet clothes and put on dry clothes. And eat something. When it seemed like things were under control for them, I left for the final push to the Refuge du Bonhomme, telling them that if they didn’t make it by 8pm, I’d come back to help. I confess to being quite happy when they trudged in at 7:58, meaning I didn’t have to go back out. It’s probably good to have some experience hiking in snow in the mountains, especially when the forecast calls for snow in the mountains you’re hiking in!

The advice given by many I bumped into along the trails was not to go over the high passes given the weather and poor visibility. I sure wouldn’t have if there were a thunderstorm risk. But generally, conditions were passable, if not ideal. That said, because of the lack of visibility I didn’t cross the Col du Fours or the Fenêtre d’Arpette, both variations to the main route.  On the plus side, I did get to test the subfreezing limits of my summer backpacking gear–no problem except for the inappropriate footwear choice. (For those looking for gear recommendations for this hike, I’ll provide them separately.)

The hike provided an opportunity to dust off my rusty French. It helped. While often there were English speakers, it wasn’t always the case, and frequently the French helped gather richer details on routes, conditions, and where to find more cheese.

I suspect it would have been awesome walking in the warm sunshine with expansive mountain views. All told, though, it was still a great way to spend the week, sometimes focused on the small things, enjoying the moments differently, and enjoying the contemplative meditative benefits of walking through whiteout conditions. For someone looking for a taste of backpacking through the mountains, and a taste of Italian dinners, French cheeses, and Swiss…well let’s maybe not talk about the Swiss food, the TMB ain’t a bad choice!

For those looking for more info on the TMB, do start with Kev Reynolds’s The Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guide. I will post separately, a breakdown of my itinerary, reviews, and gear recommendations.

(More photos.)

Cheers.

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Review: La Sportiva TX3

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La Sportiva TX3 after being pushed hard for several days in the Grand Canyon

Very impressed!

Over the past few years, I’ve primarily hiked, backpacked, and done canyoneering in various Five Ten models. First, I love the grippiness of their Stealth soles. And second, they tend to run on the wide side and fit my paddle feet. Unfortunately, I’ve been very underwhelmed with their durability, and that seems to be getting worse rather than better with newer models.

Several people had suggested La Sportiva as a worthy replacement. Unfortunately, La Sportivas just haven’t fit my wide feet. Until now. Enter the TX3.

The combination of TX3’s wider forefoot and the very adjustable lacing scheme means these shoes fit me very well. They weren’t quite as “comfortable” as say the Five Ten Camp Fours or Savants right out of the box, but they felt good. And the fit seemed much more secure than the Five Tens–and quite comfortable–on the trail. (I think part of the Five Ten initial comfort comes from them often being a bit too sloppy- loose for my foot once the terrain gets rough.)

I opted for the TX3 over the TX4 because of the synthetic uppers. Spending time in the water in canyons, I wanted something that dried a bit faster, and I didn’t want to worry about leather shrinkage. I also expected the synthetic would be more breathable than the leather.

Impressions from the Field

I’d worn these around town for a few weeks to verify the fit was good and that they felt comfortable lugging a huge pack around. Last week, I had the chance to test them out in a more challenging environment on a several-day trip canyoneering in slots of the Grand Canyon (a great test for any shoe!).

Stickiness/Traction. The Vibram Mega-Grip sole did not seem quite as sticky as the Five Ten Stealth soles on either wet or dry rock, from sandstone to polished limestone, to wet river rocks…but it was very close, and I found it worked well. In addition, the tread and heel design on the TX3 worked much better than something like the Camp Four on other terrain, and this was particularly notable on loose terrain. For example, on the exit from Scotty’s Hollow, my feet slid all over on the talus slope in Five Tens last Fall, but fared much better last week with the TX3s. A small smooth area by the big toe worked also well smearing. The overall net result is I felt generally I got better traction with the TX3.

Support and Lateral Stability. The TX3 provides great lateral stability compared to the Camp Fours or Savant. The sole seemed more rigid without sacrificing comfort. The shoe edged better than any Five Ten approach shoe I’ve worn. Overall the support was great. There was just enough sole stiffness to help with the ridiculously heavy packs (hard to be ultralight with a lot of rope, webbing, wetsuit, and other canyoneering gear) and yet flexible enough for both comfortable walking or busting a move. The sole provided a great balance between being able to feel the ground and, well, not being able to feel the ground! That is, I felt I always knew where my foot was, but every sharp edge and pebble didn’t telegraph through.

Durability. After a good pounding, these shoes still look great. The rubber rand around the entire shoe covers the most common failure points I’ve had with Five Tens, and there is little exposed stitching in the critical areas. The synthetic mesh looks and feels a lot more durable, and the time in the field proves this out. One trade off is that the rubber rand and tight weave of the mesh make it a bit less breathable than something like the Savant, but that’s a trade off I’m absolutely willing to make to avoid having the shoe disintegrate off my foot as the Savants have. The sole’s rubber also seems a bit harder than the Stealth, and it seems to be wearing better–I should get a lot more miles out of these shoes than anything from Five Ten.

My friend Bob, whose Savants blew out on approaches in Red Rock Canyon right before our trip, at the last minute grabbed a pair of the TX4s (leather upper, rather than synthetic, because there were no TX3s available in stock) for the Grand Canyon trip. While I don’t want to speak for him, he liked them straight out of the box and onto the trail. Previously, he’d found that La Sportivas didn’t fit his feet well, either. (Update from Bob: “Good review. Real leather is my only complaint with these shoes, but that’s a minor issue.”)

Conclusion

The TX3 may not be for everyone, but I found it to be a great shoe, and it will now be my go-to choice for a wide variety of activities. With its wider forefoot and adaptable lacing, it’s worth checking out even if you haven’t found La Sportivas fit well in the past. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

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Great Big Kanab and a Few of Her Slots

Bob Davis on rappel in Crack Baby

Bob on the third rappel in Crack Baby

The rains and flashing canyons prevented the intended exploration of the Kanab Creek area last Fall. (See Scotty’s Bail.) But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. (And who wouldn’t jump at the chance to stay at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel at Kanab Creek!)

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Sunset at Kanab Point

So Bob and I saddled up in Vegas and headed out. First we needed a longer rope, and Bob needed some new shoes (see TX3 review), having blown out his approach shoes climbing in Red Rock Canyon fro several days as a warm-up. After a quick stop at Desert Rock Sports, we were on our way for night camping near the trailhead (I use “trailhead” a bit loosely–it more of a “go that way” route than a trail) out on Kanab Point.  Nice big view of the Kanab drainage and up and down the Colorado including glimpses of some of our favorites canyons, Olo, Matkat, and SOB.

After a windy night on the point, we stuffed the bags too full of rope and webbing and 5 1/2 days of food. Dang, a third person would have been great to share both some weight and volume. But it was time to HTFU and start walking. There was a big weather system to the northwest, dumping snow in Utah, and potentially bringing some rain our way this day. We’d have to keep a watch on things as we went, but after Day 1, the forecast for the rest of the week was good.

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Two-stage rappel in Supai of Kanab Zero

Picking our way down to the Esplanade was pretty straight forward. We made our way to the head of Kanab Zero. And then down we went.

Down, down, down. Kanab Zero is probably about a mile long, but it has about 1200′ of rappels in that mile. After a bit of scrambling, it’s one drop after another, really helping you understand the depth of the GFC. The second set of rappels is a two-stage drop totaling 400′. I went first, admittedly with a few butterflies as I started the big drop without much warm-up to test friction of a new and unfamiliar rope (we had Imlay’s 8.3mm Canyon Fire, rather than the 8mm rope I was used to). As I was about halfway down this drop, the rain started. Not heavy, but it was rain. Bob came down. It was early afternoon. We discussed the next step.

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Concerned about rain, we opted to pull up short for the day and camp at the top of the Redwall rather than head into the slot.

We walked to the top of the Redwall. The light rain continued. The wind stiffened a bit. The now narrow slice of sky that we could see was gray. The latest info we had said the only real potential for rain was that afternoon, and evening, tapering into the early morning. High winds were also expected through the morning. We knew we still had a lot of vertical in a narrow slot, but we didn’t no exactly what it looked like or how long it would take to finish. Being old and wise–or maybe just old–we decided it was best to wait it out on the nice Redwall bench. The rain sputtered off and on. We set up camp.

As it turned out, no heavy rain came. Stopping for the day still seemed like the prudent decision.

It did have one implication, though. Plan A called for visiting Kanab Zero, Whispering Falls, Crack Baby, and Rattlesnake canyons. To fit these in, we expected long days with everything going well. Losing a half day, it now seemed like fitting in Rattlesnake would be too much for our frail constitutions. The good news, however, was that meant we now had a much more leisurely trip on our hands. And plenty of time for Bob’s tasteless jokes. Ask him about the horse… It also meant we were woefully under-supplied with rye. Amateurs!

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210′ 3-stage rappel in Redwall of Kanab Zero

All was not lost, however. Fortunately, given a choice between the hard route and the easy route, on any approach, bypass, or even water run, Bob picks the hard route every time. This meant we’d still be able to get a bit a suffering in to make the whole trip worthwhile.

Day 2. Morning came, with blue sky and and. We continued down the Kanab Zero Redwall, drop after drop, with not much walking between. The slot isn’t as drop-dead gorgeous as others in the Grand Canyon, but it’s still quite nice, and stunning in its pace, one 200-footer after the next right on through the Temple Butte. I’d do it again.

(Side note: there were a couple of new(-ish) and unnecessary bolts at the top of one of the larger Redwall drops when a suitable natural anchor was available. Please don’t do this!)

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With a late morning exit from Kanab Zero, we set up camp right across Kanab Creek, lunched, and headed for Whispering Falls.

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Whispering Falls Rap

The Whispering Falls sneak route was by far my least favorite part of the trip. This wasn’t just because Bob dislodged a bowling ball sized rock (OK, more like a large grapefruit, but the guy on the receiving end of the rock gets to exercise a little poetic license) came crashing down toward my head in yet another failed attempt to do me in. I deflected it with my left hand, way too close for comfort. Even beyond that, clawing up the powdery, crumbly slope just wasn’t fun–it was the one time during the excursion that my adrenaline spiked, and that kept me jittery even as the climb topped out and we walked along the relatively prominent path for the drop into the Whispering Falls slot.

The slot itself was nice, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others on the itinerary, even with the lovely falls and grotto. But boy, if this is the worst slot on your trip, you’re in for a good time! Bob did try to hit me with another rock during the rope pull. It landed within 2″ of my right foot. Wear your helmets, people! Especially if Bob is out to get you.

Day 3 was a stroll up the Creek to the mouth of Crack Baby. With our relaxed itinerary, we hardly needed a blistering pace. Kanab is a virtual highway by Grand Canyon standards, fairly level, and not too many boulders to negotiate. Arriving at Crack Baby, and having left the last water in the creek bed almost two hours earlier, we were delighted that the large pothole at the mouth of the slot had lots of water for drinking purposes…and that we’d get to swim through the following day. (Note, this is a potential important source of water located about 30 minutes up from the confluence with Jumpup Canyon.) Bob climbed up, down, and filled a dry bag for us to carry that short walk back to the creek bed where we camped for the night.

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Preparing at the head of Crack Baby

On Day 4, morning found us walking around to Flipoff Canyon, making the short climb to the top of the Redwall, and then the easiest walking of the week on the well-worn path to the head of Crack Baby. Bob added to our growing collection of trash pickup, finding a hat and a neoprene  sock. (We’d cleaned up some webbing and strangely left-behind rope, reusing some of it we were comfortable with for a few anchors. Add to that three balloons, a locking biner, and some tiny rusty rapides, etc.) Hitting the head of CB, we suited up.

What a fun technical canyon! Just five raps over a short distance, through a narrow, dark, and polished corridor. You’ll definitely want some good natural anchor skills here.

Some ado is made of the 4th rap, a 90-footer, off an overhanging ledge with sharp limestone teeth making the start a bit awkward and sporty. (Based on the reports, I’d used a little calming tree pose in anticipation.) The anchor is a knot chock in a depressed crack (pictured above, right). I decided to overcome the awkwardness of the start with a second anchor for a hand line, in the same crack. Not only did this help ensure the primary anchor would stay put, but it allowed us to provide a modicum of control as we eased ourselves into position with one hand on the hand line (using the anchor line would be a problem–your hand could easily get smashed and trapped in the crack as the anchor weighted). A bit of extra webbing, but it made the start pretty smooth. Relatively speaking, anyway.

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Bob on the 90′ Rap #4 in Crack Baby. Watch the awkward start over a sharp, toothy, limestone edge

Exiting Crack Baby, we took an hour to dry out ropes and gear before repacking for the stroll down Kanab Creek. On our new slacker itinerary, we only had to get back to Showerbath Spring for a quaint afternoon watching hummingbirds. Along the way we saw a flock of about 20 white birds that appeared to be cattle egrets. (Bob suggests snowy egrets. Bruce–we needed your ornithological skills here) First time I’d seen anything like them in the Grand Canyon. Alas, didn’t have a long enough lens for a good photo.

Day 5 was the hump through the beautiful Scotty’s Hollow. Damn, those packs were heavy now that we were carrying them uphill. While we could have schlepped all the way out that afternoon, we still had a budgeted half-day the next day, we figured there were worse places on the planet to sleep, so we stopped on the Esplanade, with water just a short 90′ rap away. Bob rapped down and filled up. He could have downclimbed/upclimbed this sans rope but that probably wouldn’t be advisable for mere mortals.

The next morning, with an early start, we ground up the talus slope to exit, found our way to the road, dropped packs, and seemingly flew back to the trailhead, covering the last four miles in just over an hour of walking.

Next up? Maybe back to Marble Canyon. Or a pontoon boat in the Caribbean?

See a bigger set of photos.

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Back to our vehicle and a coolish beer at the Kanab Point trailhead

 

 

 

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Scotty’s Bail

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October 2105.

Alex and I had a great idea to loop through a bunch of the Kanab Creek slots, starting and exiting via Scotty’s Hollow.

A great idea. But it didn’t work well. The biggest challenge was the late season thunderstorms rolling through. We kept are eyes on the forecast and the sky, and opted to delay a bit, probe a bit, and bail a bit.

The first day was a late start because we decide it was too risky to hit the slot in the afternoon as the expected storms rolled in. Good call. They came. As it turned out, it didn’t matter, because we blew the entry! Not having been the way, we relied on some good beta, 2 or three cairns, and some footprints. We should have ignored the footprints! They led us in the wrong direction, and we spent a few hours looking for the break…getting further and further from the real way down. A long afternoon side hilling on loose crap. Quite sporty!

(The correct route is laughingly obvious from the bottom, less so from the top.)

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As we called it and headed back, we saw the storms come in and the washes feeding the Scotty’s slot flashing. With the rain and wind and looming dark, we bailed, pitched the tarp, and spent the night sliding out and crawling back in!

With the forecast calling for more storms the next day, we decided to abort, and retry two days later when things were supposed to be clear.  Good call.

Hot shower, cold beer, and a restart. But now we knew the trip would be shorter, and we’d have to cut out a few slots. Having restudied the beta, we quickly found the right break, the only break really, and headed down.

We opted to descend the North Fork of Scotty’s knowing we’d come back up the other side. The North Fork is nice, but not spectacular. Below that, though, Scotty’s is gorgeous and fun. No ropes needed, but fun scrambling, wading, and a bit of swimming in the recently replenished pools.

Kanab Creek was supposed to be the highway for this trip, allowing us the loop among the slots. By the time we got there, a good 24+ hours after the rain, the creek was still swollen. You’ll sometimes see photos of people walking in the less than ankle deep clear creek. We saw bubbling chocolate milk that ranged from just below the knee to the collarbones at one point. We were able to navigate and made it laboriously upstream to Showerbath Spring, but it was clear the going was too slow and sketchy for us to really make the distance needed.

Spending the night at Showerbath, we decided just to leave it for another day. We turned and took a leisurely time up Scotty’s and actually met two groups coming down. One group was Keith Peterson and Co., on their way down to what would be a successful climb of Scotty’s Castle–awesome! It was nice having Monkey Boy Alex for the climb up the chockstone’s in Scotty’s. The wet mud at the bottom of each chockstone made for some slippy feet. But we perfected sending the climby boy up the large man’s back, and then using a hand line to get to big guy up.

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It seems the other group we passed was a couple of guys who apparently cairned the heck out of the trail down. Big cairns, and tightly grouped. While that would have made our first probe easier, I confess to returning a few of them to their natural state (when you can see five cairns from one spot in the wilderness, I consider that overkill).

Didn’t come close to the trip as planned. But not a bad way to spend a few days in the Hole.

And we’ll be back to tackle the original Plan soon.

(Here’s a bigger set of photos and a set of bigger photos.)

 

 

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