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Brian Cray - Hitchhikin', Trainhoppin', and Wanderin'

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Archives for February 2016

Rim 2 Rim

Rim 2 Rim…Not a Porno

Rim 2 Rim

Rim 2 Rim

The Penis Cactus hiking Rim 2 Rim

I awoke fairly early Thursday morning to set out on an intense, Rim 2 Rim, hike that tested both my mental and physical conditioning. Since I started working in Grand Canyon Village a few months ago at the start of the New Year I became somewhat of an avid hiker in the backcountry. I started off with a 16.7 mile hike to the river and back my first weekend here and nearly spent the last few miles crawling on my hands and knees pleading to finish and relax. After weeks of hiking Bright Angel, Tonto, South Kaibab, Dripping Springs, Waldron, Hermits, River Trail, Grandview, and the Rim Trail I can now add North Kaibab to my list of hiked trails. The mental and physical exhaustion I experienced on this two-day backcountry excursion tested my limits to maximum capacity. The winter months made the climate less harsh and easier to hike, but hiking 22 hours over the course of a 48-hour period with 25-30 lbs. of gear made me send the pain below. I focused and continued hiking without turning back, actively resting, ate minimal food and drank minimal water. The willpower and ability to test one’s true limits came with a price. My knees wobbled like jelly with every step as I inched closer to the North Rim. My stomach gurgled and growled for food from lack of consumption. My lips cracked and the lower corners filled with a crusty residue from dehydration. My shoulders and back slumped from the additional weight. But in the end, despite the pain, wincing, anguish, emotional instability, feeling of distraught, anger, suffocation and most of all fear, tiny episodes of happiness, perseverance, and determination sprouted from within as I trekked deeper and deeper into nature’s beast, the Grand Canyon.

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek

Two days in the wilderness, completely alone, really made a man think about his life and its direction. I felt like I fast forwarded the first 15 miles of the hike, mainly because I spent two other times traversing the Bright Angel Trail to the River, but also due to the downhill descent and gradual climb into the Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail. Hours passed as I hopped down the trail like a jackrabbit, avoiding ice patches, and loose rocks as I roamed closer to the river. I did not spend much time enjoying the beauty of the canyon, but instead thought about life and where it led me to this point. The past months of my life changed as I came back into society living in an apartment in Goodyear with a little doggy and my Kelly. As much as that lifestyle killed me I don’t think I would have it any other way. My fear of the future and what it will bring is deafening with a race of thoughts going on in every direction in my mind. I try to focus in on one idea that will work for both of us, but in the end, regardless, it will work out. Much of my hike through the canyon felt like a race against myself with constant thoughts of failure and almost succumbing to the pains in my knee joints and blistering toes, but I kept going. One of the only thoughts that kept me motivated to continue was the reward at the end of this 50-mile, 2-day hike. What was that? None other than constantly repeating the phrase, “Chicken Wings!” over and over again. I thought about drowning 24-wings in BBQ sauce, dipping them into bleu cheese and ranch dressing as I ripped each morsel of meat off the tender bones. The wings melting in my mouth as I chewed through them fervently, shredding the meat to pieces like a lawn mower. This thought dwelled in my mind for the duration of the 22-hours of constant travel.

Coconino Overlook Rim 2 Rim and back

Coconino Overlook Rim 2 Rim and back

Once I hiked past Cottonwood Springs Campground I noticed the climb changed from a gradual elevation gain over 6.4 miles to, “Oh fuck, with just 8 miles left I need to climb another 4,240 feet over the next 8 miles…” It seemed doable and easy on paper, but throw on boots, a 25 lbs. backpack with (2) gallons of water, some food and cold camping gear and the only easy parts about it were the rests. I took several of them as I wandered up the steep grades on the North Rim. They only spanned a few minutes in length, but every break helped pushed me forward to my destination, Rim 2 Rim. I saw a few hikers in the opposite direction, but in my 2-days of hiking Rim 2 Rim, I did not see anyone take my path, which felt rather heartwarming. As I roamed through the open Canyon the rock formations began to change drastically with more limestone and Bright Angel Shale present. Erosion never ceased in these parts with many sections of the trail covered in fallen rock and broken debris from rock slides. When I reached the junction for Ribbon Falls I veered left and bush-wacked along the corridor of Bright Angel Creek until ending up back in the direction of North Kaibab Trail. My mind felt disoriented and fuzzy from the heat, but I continued my steady pace towards Manzanita Campground and eventually stumbled upon Roaring Springs. Here I saw a Helipad and what looked like a ranger station outside of huge waterfall that splashed against the mountainside of the canyon walls dripping its freshness into the creek below. The day felt endless as I watched the sun rise and dance around me as I descended into the canyon and now ascended closer towards the North Rim. With each step I re-positioned my toes, curling them or walking on the outer portions of my feet to avoid constant rubbing on my big toes where blisters and calluses formed. This made hiking more bearable as I continued my “Chicken Wing” chant up to the North Rim.

4 P.M. rolled around as I walked by a ranger headed for the next station. I inquired about the distance to the North Rim. With just three miles from the next bridge and 1.75 miles from Supai Tunnel a smile of relief broke out across my face and suddenly the pain and anger turned to joy. My mouth watered for food and my imagination began to dominate my thoughts as a buffet table of food lined the top of the North Rim or at least that’s what I told myself. I hiked, took a rest, hiked, hiked and hiked some more, by this time the sun dipped down below the South Rim casting its rays along the canyon walls showing the vibrant colors of rock as I hobbled up inching closer to the North Rim. I past the bridge and before I knew it I reached Supai Tunnel with just 1.75 miles left and daylight fading I booked it into overdrive. The grade became even steeper as I approached the last switchbacks before reaching the North Rim. Pact snow and ice meandered around the bends in the shadows of the shrubbery with muddy patches of trail in sections exposed to the sun. I felt like I slithered my way up to the North Rim with all the switchbacks as darkness began to present itself as I reached Coconino Overlook, from there I saw Mount Humphrey, the peak we climbed the week prior in Flagstaff. I made a decision then to stop as the temperature dropped 40 degrees and wind speeds began to pick up to 20-30 MPH. Dropping my pack, I frantically searched through my gear for Underarmour, gloves, a neck gator and my snow pants. I took off my clothes and my naked skin dried instantly in the chilling breeze as my nipples hardened and body began to shake from the sub-freezing temperatures. I changed out my sweaty clothing for dry clothing and nestled myself into my 0 degree Dri-down Kelty sleeping bag. My fingers felt immobile in this weather from the frigid cold and I began to lose circulation in my toes, fingers and nose the longer I stayed in the wind. I secured my belongings outside my camp site, setting up my sleeping pad behind a rock and wiggled my body into my bivy bag, zipping it over my head for a night of intense winds and near hypothermic conditions. My body shook from cold chills as I dozed in and out of what felt like a hallucinogenic trance. Sometimes only ten minutes passed as I looked at the clock. Other times hours passed and I wondered if I even slept or just waited out the cold roars of the Earth to calmly come to a subtle halt so I could continue my hike back to the South Rim. Despite the unfavorable weather at least it did not snow or rain and I was finally able to rest my aching quads, knees, hamstrings, toes, and feet as I stretched out inside my sleeping bag wondering what the next day would bring?

I awoke at 8 AM neither feeling rested nor sleep deprived and immediately threw all my gear together into my backpack to get out of roaring winds. I won’t rehash the hike back from Rim 2 Rim, but you can guess the anguish and exhaustion I felt the first day so multiply that by an intensity of two and you can catch the gist of it. For most of my hike back I bumped into the same ranger from the previous night, Dan Solmon, and we exchanged information to hike in the future. Instead of taking Bright Angel I decided to hike back North Kaibab to South Kaibab Trailhead and take the bus home. The 3 less miles and steeper climb made it more favorable for me to reach the South Rim before dark despite climber about 1,000 feet per mile. Like I said before, the only thing that kept me going was, “Chicken Wings” and I stuck to it savoring their taste all the way to Maswik Pizza Pub where I indulged in 24 BBQ Chicken Wings after hiking about 50 miles over 2-days on my Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim hike. After 22 solid hours of hiking I did Rim 2 Rim and back in 2-days and at this point in my travels in the Grand Canyon I am ready for a change of scenery, a new adventure. I look forward to ending in April so I can hit up Flagstaff and hop a freight train to New Mexico or wherever it takes me.

(I will upload more pictures tomorrow. I am having trouble uploading them at the moment due to this shitty Internet connection).

Mount Humphrey Ridge

Mount Humphrey and the Super Sayin’

Mount Humphrey

Requesting days off at work now is nearly impossible with the influx of more tourists who want to look at the stupid Canyon. I got off Valentine’s Day weekend recently, and spent a few romantic nights with my Kelly. We spent some of our time with the little doggy, but to my surprise, Kelly wanted to roam around Phoenix and Scottsdale just to get out of the house. I wanted to be a couch bum and cuddle staying in all day, but we hit the road for Papago Park instead. The hole in the rock intrigued many visitors all around the city, mostly fat people and children since it involved minimal walking, but the views on top of the rock overlooked the zoo and a lake, where a bunch of Mexicans grilled out with their families drinking their typical cerveza of choice, Corona.

Although the park agitated me from the noise and the people I enjoyed spending time with my fiancé. Since I moved to the Canyon it is hard to find time to see her due to the distance, our schedules and money, but we make it work. Adjusting between the Canyon and Phoenix always hits me hard due to the temperature change, long drive and acclimation. For February, Phoenix is hot. A dry 80 degrees makes it feel like I’m a melting snowman in direct sunlight, which is why I enjoy the cool breeze of the Grand Canyon.

Mount Humphrey

We found the trail for Mount Humphrey’s Peak

We walked around Papago Park for a brief period until Kelly decided to check out the distance of Cosanti from our location. I completely forgot about this place, but if you remember my previous blog post about Arcosanti, they have similarities in structure. Paolo Soleri lived in Cosanti and started much of his sustainable work for arcology here. Cosanti is home to his family along with his bell production, which generated enough revenue to start constructing his ideas from paper and models to actual architecture. This established Arcosanti. Cosanti is a store next to Scottsdale that strictly sells bells and pots made using similar techniques implemented by Paolo Soleri, who died a few years ago at the age of 93. Both Arcosanti and Cosanti give the hippie vibe, but the principle behind their self-sustainable society is to preserve the Earth through green building. The idea that less is more is evident when you step foot into Cosanti. Though most of the embellished bells and ornate pots are quite expensive, I saw one priced at $18,000, the revenue goes to making Soleri’s dream a reality. What better place to do it than Scottsdale?

Mount Humphrey

Plane debris from a wreck on Mount Humphrey

Our original plans after visiting Cosanti and Papago Park took us to a packed parking lot full of couples texting on their phones in an agitated state outside of The Cheesecake Factory. Immediately we turned around in the opposite direction releasing fumes of frustration until we stumbled upon the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner, a small Chinese restaurant in Sun City. They served us immediately with platters stuffed full of tofu, egg rolls, egg drop soup and Kung Pao chicken. We ate until our stomachs drooped over our waistbands. I needed to unbutton my pants because of my bloated state from over-eating. Kelly indulged in a few drinks and we ended our weekend of bliss with cuddling to Cabin in the Woods.

Mount Humphrey

She dropped me off in Flagstaff to catch the shuttle back to the Grand Canyon, but luckily, Graeme got time off of work and hung out in Flagstaff to hike Mount Humphrey with his friend Weston. I heard adventure and joined without any question. We roamed around Flagstaff waiting for Weston to get off of work and my mind wandered off about the wedding, my wedding ring and hopping freight trains. After fitting my ring size in the mall I noticed a crew change spot in Flagstaff so I am looking forward to catching out next time I am wandering about in Flagstaff after my job ends in April.

7 PM rolled around and we grabbed the typical hiking food from the grocery store, sardines, anchovies, tuna fish, peanut butter, etc. We decided to rent snowshoes and boards from Peace Outlets for $30 to board down the peak once reaching the summit. My adrenaline and stoke-meter flew off the Richter scale as I calmed myself down for a night of sleeping on the floor of a tiny apartment.

Mount Humphrey Ridge

A beautiful view from the ridge-line overlooking the other mountains around Mount Humphrey

We awoke early at 7 AM to hit the mountain. Starting from Agassiz Lodge we learned a backcountry permit was necessary to hike Mount Humphrey or a day pass to Snowbowl, which we had neither. We arrived sandwiched between a liftie meeting at the Agassiz Lodge and bolted for the adjacent woods behind the parking lot. The map seemed useless since it did not have Snowbowl trail names on it, but nonetheless we hiked in the general direction of the Peak. After strapping into our snowshoes we jogged across the mountain to the woods to hide in the shadows of the tree-line from ski patrol. The snow felt stiff, pact and granular unlike fresh fluffy powder. Weston lead the pack while we followed footprints cast throughout the snow, heading north up the mountain, towards the peak. Surprisingly we found signage with a log book stating, “Mount Humphrey Trail.” We kept rolling lucky 7’s as we trekked up the mountain on its many switchbacks. In many instances the trail outlined a route from other day hikers making it easy to follow until footprints scattered off in multiple directions diverting from the assigned route on the map. We took matters into our own hands heading north to the peak eliminating multiple switchbacks, which in turn made us gain altitude much faster and tired our legs out to Jello. Coming from Goodyear the day prior I felt extremely exhausted with the acclimation. My calf muscles tired as I marched up the steep grade following Weston and Graeme, but my shortness of breath astonished me, since the last month all I have done is hike or walk everywhere.

Because we took the less common route we stumbled upon a plane wreck and memorial for 8 men who died in a military mission in the year 1944. Some of the debris from the crash site still scattered across the mountain as we saw bits and pieces glistening in the afternoon sunlight. When we made it to the top after a half day of trudging through the unfavorable conditions our self doubt banished and replaced with a feeling of perseverance, excitement and accomplishment. Suddenly my shortness of breath, wobbly legs, and sun-burnt face, disappeared with a smile of happiness as Graeme yelled out a huge growl from the summit. He looked like Goku going Super Saiyan atop Arizona’s highest peak. We roamed down to an open area of snow and boarded through the glades. I missed out on Graeme and Weston falling through the woods, skidding down on their butts and hands, but I was not much better. I zigzagged through the trees trying to maintain a rhythm. The same rhythm I learned a few years back when living in Breckenridge, CO slowly came back to me after much falling on my ass, knees, and hands. By the time I finally picked snowboarding back up my ass felt frost bitten and my gloves turned a soppy mess. We all reached the bottom as Snowbowl closed for the day looking up at Mount Humphrey’s Peak amazed at its vastness overlooking the city.

Mount Humphrey

At the summit of Mount Humphrey

Ponderosa Pines on Waldron Trail

Drunk Hiking Grand Canyon Shenanigans

Hiking Grand Canyon

Dripping Springs

Hiking Grand Canyon: Dripping Springs Trail

A lot happened over the past few weeks in The Village. Not just hiking either, although, we hiked a majority of the trails too since my last blog post about the Rim Trail following Hermit’s Road. With a month of living in “Victim Hall” (Victor Hall) and working at “Asswik Lodge” (Maswik Lodge) I realized that seasonal work attracts all types of people, travelers, homeless people, and the fair share of crazies. While dishwashing in the lodge I heard all kinds of stories, blowing up equipment sheds, strangling the handicapped, homeless in Seattle, setting off nitroglycerine in national forest land and starting a forest fire, the list goes on and it only gets more interesting. Some of these people work in the Canyon permanently and will die here. They do not hike, or get out much, so I do not see the appeal, but The Canyon attracted them to stay for whatever reason. The stupid hole in the ground attracts many employees and tourists and if you do not hike, well, you drink, or do both. Two employees at Maswik already got canned in my first month for “no-call, no-show” or simply coming into work drunk and singing at the cashier’s counter while ringing up customers. Every KU with the exception of me and the younger employees all give the crazy vibe with their Einstein hairdos, and melancholy expressions of hopelessness from Xanterra sucking away their souls over decades of time. Xanterra hires everyone and when I mean everyone, well, I mean any person off the street, which I think is great, but they do not use wits and judgment. Any person with or without limbs, mental stability or on the verge of grim death works here in the kitchen or any other shitty, minimum-wage position. Fights break out in Victor Hall a few times a week or NPS arrives because of noise complaints, which happens from partying and tipping your elbow a bit too much. However, Xanterra does not do background checks. If they did, most the people working here would be no longer. So as I sit in my closet dorm, with two beds, a speech-impediment, Bible Thumping, slob of a roommate, I wonder what crimes each person in my building committed in their past. At least it’s not the 90’s where people were getting shanked and shot in Victim Hall, which is how this place got its name. The partying here is like any other small town of transients. It is crazy! I stick to beer and nights out with the boys playing “Cards Against Humanity,” listening to Mike and Graeme jam out or just relaxing throwing a few back in the lounge, but when I’m not drinking or working my dead-end job to nowhere I hike everywhere.

Grandview Trail

Hiking Grand Canyon: View from the Cave on Grandview Trail

In the past few weeks we hiked Grandview Trail, Cave of the Domes, Waldron Trail, Dripping Springs, some of Hermit’s Rest, Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point, Tonto East, South Kaibab and we plan on doing more. The views out here are incredible and the terrain gets exponentially more difficult as I wade away from the tourist pit trails.

Grandview Trail

Hiking Grand Canyon: Entrance to the false cave

While slipping and sliding down the steep switchbacks on Grandview Trail we slid on our asses a few times digging our naked hands into the icy snow banks trying to locate a cave. Now we thought this cave might be a simple, low-key cavern like an igloo, but boy, were we far from right! Once the red rocks at the base of Grandview changed to green endless miles of scenery we diverted off the trail to the gulley which shot down towards a valley in the Canyon. This unmaintained washout looked like a trail taken by many avid hikers looking for spelunking opportunities. We reached the first cave, which despite its huge opening was a false cave and as we scampered onward we found a tiny crack in the wall that opened up to an enormous cavern. We wandered around inside for an hour bouldering over sloped sections of rock or crawling under tight openings to travel further into the warmly interesting environment of stalagmites and stalactites. As we roamed further into the cave it felt endless and we approached a section where rappelling looked necessary. Since we lacked a rope and appropriate climbing gear, we turned around and continued our explorations elsewhere.

Cave of the Domes

Hiking Grand Canyon: Cave of the Domes

Dripping Springs dripped its drops from the far end of the canyon walls as we sat our asses on a slick, smooth cliff listening to the pitter patter of the splashes against the Canyon floor like the sound of light raindrops in a drizzle. We sat and gazed out at the cloudless blue sky thinking of our next hike, which we decided on Waldron Trail.

Cave of the Domes

Hiking Grand Canyon: Cave of the Domes

In order to get to Waldron or Dripping Springs we hiked down the steep, unmaintained Hermit’s Rest trail. By now my legs felt mastered to the steep, rocky terrain and strenuous miles of hiking multiple days in a row, but we added an unknown variable into our Waldron hike, lack of sleep. That night we partied until 7:30 AM. I planned on having a beer or two, but it never works out that way. Mike nodded off at 6:30 AM and we slapped him in the face a bit to wake him. Then we hit the road for 8 miles of pain. Hiking steep terrain in itself is miserable. Regardless of how fit one is, one hits a point where one wants to capitulate and question why they started hiking in the first place. Maybe it’s the lower back pain from the 6,000+ feet of elevation gain from the base of the Grand Canyon to the rim or maybe it’s the constant, repetitive motion of lifting one’s heavy boots out of the pact snow. Normally 8 miles is nothing for me, but at points I wanted to collapse in the middle of the trail to shut my eyes and lay in the warm sun for a quick sleep. We kept chugging along like the little engine that could. Mike sprawled out on a fallen log at the trailhead of Waldron and fell asleep. He would not budge, so we left him there and continued onward hiking through the narrow switchbacks away from the canyon. Adrenaline pushed me to power up the gradual climbs through the snow and rocky patches of trail. Eventually we roamed through forest consisting of the bitter sweet smell of sage and pine needles. We stumbled upon Horsethief Tank, a reservoir, which looked completely empty and covered with snow. After 2.1 miles of desensitized zombie walking through the woods we made it to a sign for the Waldron Trail next to bright ponderosa pine trees with their orange brownish trunks perched tall like giant beanstalks. I tried climbing one, but their branches started too far up the trunk so instead I just gazed at the green pines cast out overhead in awe of their beauty and immensity.

Tonto East

Hiking Grand Canyon: Tonto East

We turned around and ran back down the steep slope we just climbed shuffling about in the snow. Running took less effort than slowly planting each foot firmly against the ground for a stable footing. My legs churned from exhaustion and sleep deprivation, as we made it out of the snowy woods to the log which Mike lay across snoozing with his hands interlocked across his stomach. The three of us continued onward up Hermit’s Rest dreading the steep, rocky climb to the trailhead. As we approached the top I almost gave up, but once we made it to the car I sipped on my cold coffee before completely passing out in my room for the rest of the night.

Plateau Point overlooking the Colorado River

Hiking Grand Canyon: Plateau Point overlooking the Colorado River

My most impressive hike came a few days after Waldron when I decided to solo hike Bright Angel Trailhead to Plateau Point to Tonto East and up South Kaibab back to the Green Route Bus. 18 miles with 6,000 feet of elevation gain, no snacking and a few five minute breaks quickly excited me for my next long hike, which I plan to do towards the end of the month when I hike Rim 2 Rim and back on a long 48-mile trek over the course of a few days. This hike tested my limits, leg strength, stamina and toughness both mentally and physically. After all this hiking and training I want to hike the Appalachian Trail. The most satisfying moment of this day came on a rock overlooking the Colorado River. My feet dangled thousands of feet from the rapids taking in the views both east and west of the river as it meandered through the canyon. The thunderous sound of the river echoed through the canyon walls and reminded me of standing at Pima Point overlook. In that moment I wanted to adventure through the canyon by kayak on an unknown journey through level 5 rapids and I still do. Maybe that lies ahead in my future after April 3rd. With the right gear, I think I can do it. It would be the experience of a lifetime.

Ponderosa Pines on Waldron Trail

Hiking Grand Canyon: Ponderosa Pines on Waldron Trail

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