Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Grand Canyon hike - South Rim to North Rim

As I look back at this rim-to-rim hike of  grand canyon, I realize that this one is indeed going to be very special. And, a rim-to-rim hike is possibly the only way one can experience this magnificent masterpiece in its entirety.

Grand Canyon and its history:

The sheer size and age of these structures is unbelievable. The majestic grand canyon(s) gave us a glimpse of the insignificance of human race in the larger scheme of things. Here is a brief history:

Grand Canyon lies in Colorado plateau, which was uplifted by collision of tectonic plates. Colorado river and its smaller streams have  been cutting through layers of rocks for millions of years resulting in the formation of Grand Canyon. The age of Grand Canyon is a hot topic for debate but Wiki states that Colorado river made its way through the plateau at least 17 million years ago. Since then, Colorado river has been eroding layers of rock to result in the current structure of Grand Canyon.

The Hike:

Hiking 21 miles (33Kms) in temperatures of 40-45 degree celsius is certainly not a casual hike.  Going down ~4800 ft and coming up ~5800 ft is a daunting task, to say the least. The hike is not technically risky as such but the extremely hot weather makes it a very challenging hike.

DAY 1: Rendezvous at Las Vegas

Five of us flew in from different part of North America to Las Vegas - Ali from Raleigh, Ady from LA, Pushkar & Deepak from San Jose and I flew in from Montreal. Luckily for us, we didn't face any flight delays like the colorado hike last year (http://athmagyaan.blogspot.com/2010/08/colorado-trekkers-paradise.html)

After spending the day at a hotel in Las Vegas, we left for the campground just outside Grand Canyon National park. Just before entering the campground, we were stopped by a police officer who informed us that the campround was full. This would have been a major upset to our plan as there is hardly any other spot available nearby for camping. But, luckily for us, we had reserved a campsite and were allowed to enter on providing reservation details. I guess the officer was bluffing to prevent gate crashers from entering the campground.

We reached our campsite around midnight and were ready for a short sleep as we had an early start the next day.

DAY 2: South Rim (South Kaibab Trailhead) to Cottonwood campground  via Phantom ranch (14 miles/22.4 Kms)

After just three hours of sleep we set off on this 21 mile rim-to-rim hike. We reached just on time for the 415AM shuttle which took us till South Kaibab trailhead. Here is a view of how it looked just after we started:

Grand Canyon at South Rim

Grand Canyon at South Rim (Source: Ali)

The first 7 miles were relatively easy but were taking a toll on our knees. This portion of hike is a steep downhill stretch all throughout until Phantom Ranch. As visibility was getting better, we had the opportunity to witness this majestic beauty.

On the way down to Phantom Ranch

Ady (Left) and Pushkar

Colorado river

We reached Phantom Ranch (7 miles from Trailhead) at around 930 - about five hours after we started. We were beginning to feel the heat now. The only direction temperature was moving was upwards.

Water is all you need !

Ady's turn!

And then Pushkar !

That's where we were warned by a ranger. We were about to start hiking the next 7 miles at 10AM in temperatures of over 40C. It seems there have been a couple of rescues during the past two days in the same stretch. Hikers seemed to have under-estimated the heat. We were told to wait till 4PM to start the hike. But then, without adequate sleep, next day's hike would have been tough. We decide to proceed albeit with all precautions given by the ranger (which also included getting down in water wherever possible). 

As we were hiking through the flat patch between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood camp, we realised that we had not made the right move - but, we had no other alternative. We should have either started earlier or hiked the first 7 miles faster to beat the heat. 

One of those water breaks!
On the flat open stretch which made us stretch !

We got exhausted but still made it to Cottonwood camp in decent shape and with lots of time at hand. Ali and Deepak, who were quite ahead of us, reached cottonwood before 10AM thereby escaping the heat. Aditya, Pushkar and I reached at around 4PM.

There was nice little pool at Cottonwood camp much to the relief of all of us.

One can easily guess the temperature of water from their expressions !

After spending sometime there, we had  an early dinner and went to bed at around 830. That's when we realized that we had carried our sleeping bags for no reason. It was really hot - some people didn't even bother to get their tents. After this tiring day, a good sleep was very essential for next day's hike and we did manage to have that.

DAY 3: Cottonwood Campground to North Rim (7 miles/11.2 Km)

Next day, we started hiking the last 7 mile stretch at about 330AM. This stretch had some lovely views as we were gaining elevation. These 7 miles were the steepest of the lot but we could do it without getting completely exhausted as we were in the shade most of the time.

Time for reflection !

Pushkar finds a cozy(??) place for a quick nap !

Once at the top of North rim, we had all the time in the world.

At the North Rim - Victory at last !

We had one full to day to look around before we take the shuttle back to South rim. We got some good pictures there.

Pushkar tracing the trail - South rim is at the background at this pic - that's where we had started !

One of those rare pictures with all crazy buggers !


DAY 4: Return to Las Vegas

Early next day, we took the transcanyon shuttle to South rim. We spent some time at the South rim before starting our journey back to Vegas.

South rim too was good - We didn't notice it as we had started before sunrise !
We made a quick stop at Hoover dam which lies on the way to Vegas. An engineering marvel, hoover dam was built in the 1930s - it is tough to imagine that something so big and complex was accomplished such a long time back.

We reach the airport on time for our flights and look back at a very satisfying hike - one that will linger in our memories for quite some time. Also, this one being my last hike in the US before i head back to Asia, it was indeed special.

Images are courtesy of Ady & Pushkar (unless stated otherwise)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Into the arctic - Auyuittuq National Park - Gear List

Finally, it is time for my longest ever hiking trip (turns out to be the most expensive one too !!). This time next week, i shall be airbound to the remote wilderness of Auyuittuq National Park in the Canadian arctic. The 10 day trip would involve hiking 75kms through 6 Nights/7 days, 2 nights camping at the outskirts of Auyuittuq and 2 nights at a nice (&pricey) hotel in Iqaluit.

Just reaching Auyuittuq National Park takes 3 flights (Montreal->Ottawa->Iqaluit->Pangnirtung) and a boat ride !! Thats what makes this trip so exciting... There is so much uncertainty throughout the trip.

It has been a long search and i finally seem to be near the finale of 'to-purchase' lists... This has involved months of research and then finally choosing the right stuff that will last in the arctic. This was crucial because if you dont have it in your backpack, you just cant get it.

So here it is:

BackPack, Sleeping bag and tent

Backpack --> Gregory Palisade 80 - Superbly comfortable
Sleeping bag --> North Face Cat's Meow (-7C) - tried and tested on many hikes; extremely satisfied with this purchase (Thanks Pushkar! )
Thermarest prolite plus sleepig pad -- very comfortable
Pillow - light weight, compact, air fill
Summit Bag --> Gregory Miniwok 18L ( Nice little summit bag that is hydration compatible)
Tent --> MSR Hubba Hubba (2 person) - Superlight, easy setup, sturdy


Stove --> Optimus Nova+ expedition multifuel stove + 2 1L fuel bottles - Have read a lot of reviews and this one seems to be one amongst the best multifuel stoves. MSR also has a couple of good ones.
Backup stove --> Solid fuel stove (Open flames are not allowed in the Park - to be used only in case of emergency)
Kitchen Pot --> MSR Alpinist 2 - Lightweight, compact, foldable handle, plastic holder on lid for easy lift off
Fork/Spoon --> 2 in 1 from MEC
Knife --< Opinel #8 foldable knife
Stormproof, waterproof matches

--> Loads of stuff - 4-5 Kgs. MountainHouse, Backpackers pantry, Planters etc. Food is crucial on a trip like this and it is advised to carry atleast 1-2 days of extra food (Considering the fact that emergency response is measured in 'days' rather than hours! ) Everything from Chicken teriyaki to Pasta to Soups to Granola mixes...
--> Lots of Powerbar gels,bars,Nuts & Chocolate.
--> Electrolyte tablets that can be dissolved in water (Nice replacement for Gatorade- lightweight and less bullky)

Clothing & Footwear

Base Layer --> Polartek base layer from MEC (2) - lovely fit (It has been a struggle to find something that fits this well in North America !! )
Mid Layer --> Arcteryx Fleece - Simple, elegant, made of Polartek material
Outer Layer --> Kanuk (-40C rated sturdy jacket), Arcteryx rain shell (Made of Goretex Paclite - ligthweight, waterproof)
2 Half sleeve 100% polyester T shirts (cotton is not advisable for cold conditions as it soaks in moisture)
1 full sleeve Polyester T shirt
2 Hiking shorts - Columbia
1 North Face convertible hiking pant
1 Skiing pant - with a woolen base layer and waterproof outer layer
1 woolen sweater (just in case! Taking no chances...)
Glove liners, Woolen Kanuk Tuque
Waterblocker sealskinz socks (for river crossings)
North Face Vibram/goretex  hiking shoes - (Dont recollect name of the model. Light weight, comfortable and breathable+waterproof)
Merell waterpro sandals (for river crossings)


Emergency survival blanket for 2 - for hypothermia
Adventure medical kit - ultralight 5
Tent repair kit
Thermarest repair kit for sleeping pad
Sewing kit & adhesive
Duct tape - for backpack/sleeping bag etc
Goretex patches - waterproof patches for outer layer repair.
Spare laces
Insect repellant
Mosquito net for head/neck


Iridium Satellite phone - works decently well in the Arctic
Hydration pack 2L Camelbak
Nalgene 1L bottle
Columbia 750ml bottle
Trekking poles - Black Diamond ultralight (250g)
MSR water pump+ filter
Straps+cords etc.
D90 Nikon camera + 18-105 lens (looking around for wide angle lens)

I still have some items in my 'to-purchase' list which includes Polar bear repellants, spare batteries for D90 and a service kit for the stove.

I hope all this helps me get back in a single piece !! Whatever be the result, I am surely going to enjoy this one till the end !!