Running the Red Rocks of Sedona, Day 4!!!

After 3 days in the Grand Canyon, I’d covered just over 60 miles on 4 different trails, yet I felt that I only scratched the surface.    I could have easily spent my last day exploring more of the Canyon, but I also wanted to spend some time running in the Red Rock region of Sedona, AZ.   My adventure to the Canyon was only for 5 days and one of those would be spent travelling.  I felt that I discovered enough of the area and trails of the South Rim to know what trail I’ll explore when I come back.   After day 3 and running/hiking almost 15 miles I was ready to hit the road and head to Sedona.

Taking 5 at the top of the mountain trail across from Pine Flats National Forest Campground Sedona

Taking 5 at the top of the mountain trail across from Pine Flats National Forest Campground Sedona

Sedona, Arizona is rated as one of the most beautiful places in the U.S.    Like the Canyon, the scenery around Sedona  is beyond description and if you like the outdoors it has everything to offer. One could easily spend a week there and not come close to experiencing all it has to offer.  I would only have a day and my plan was to search out the best trails with the most spectacular scenery and a swimming hole.   My flight out of Phoenix was at 11 p.m so I needed a place to cool and rinse off after my run and before heading to the airport.

Sedona with it's beautiful backdrop

Sedona with it’s beautiful backdrop

I drove into Sedona on a Saturday with no reservations for camping, but thought if I couldn’t find a spot to camp, I’d find a place somewhere out on a trail to pitch a tarp.   I stopped at one of the National Forest Campgrounds, that had a “Full” sign out front, to ask the camp host where I might find a spot to camp out for the night, or park my car if I had to sleep in it.   I got lucky though, after I asked, he said he had one spot open up, due to a last-minute cancellation.    The campground was the Pine Flat Campground , located in the Oak Creek Canyon, with several miles of hiking trails leading down along oak creek, or up to the top of the mountain with spectacular views.   I ran the trail the first thing in the morning before breakfast, a perfect start to the day!!

Top of the mountain trail overlooking Oak Creek Canyon

Top of the mountain trail overlooking Oak Creek Canyon

At the edge of the campground there was a stone structure with two pipes coming out and water flowing continuously.  The water was being piped from a mountain spring and there were locals stopping to fill up large 5 gallon water bottles for their weekly drinking water.   After my hike, I filled up my water bottles with the delicious cold spring water.   One local told me that the county tests the water each year to ensure it’s still pure and he told me that it is some of the cleanest and purest water around.   It was perfect, as I sat and drank from my water bottles, I was able to talk with the locals and find out where the best trails were around the Sedona area, that had a place to swim.    Considering I only had 5 hours or so, the consensus for the best all around trail, was that of Cathedral Rock.  I got directions to a secluded parking area on the backside of the mountain that  the locals use,  exactly what I was looking for.  I headed back to my camp to eat, pack up my tent and head out.

Just a few minutes out of town, it was like driving into a painting.

Just a few minutes out of town, it was like driving into a painting.

The campground was located about 14 miles up the beautiful winding mountain road, 89A.   I stopped in Sedona just long enough to take a few pictures and a quick look around.  It’s a beautiful little tourist town, with a picture perfect backdrop to it, but there wasn’t much I wanted to see in town, I was anxious to get out to the trails leading out to Cathedral Rock.  I headed out-of-town to find the parking lot at the trailhead on the backside of the Cathedral Rock.

Looking at Cathedral Rock from the small parking lot!

Looking at Cathedral Rock from the small parking lot!

After pulling out-of-town it didn’t take me long to find the parking area that the locals directed me to.   As soon as I stepped out I could see Cathedral Rock and I was starting to get excited.    There was a map posted at the trailhead which showed the two main trails that circled the Rock, the total mileage including the climb to the top was around 5 miles.  I was hoping to get in more mileage if I could, so I carried with me a trail map of that whole region.  I would get out to the top of Cathedral Rock then from there I could connect to a whole other series of trails.  There are miles and miles of trails all connecting, if I had all day I could cover some distance.   From the time I pulled into the parking long to when I had to leave was only about 4 hours.   The day was flying by!

Heading out onto the Trail to Cathedral Rock.

Heading out onto the Trail to Cathedral Rock.

As I headed out onto the Templeton Trail I could understand why this region is called the “Red Rock Region”, every bit of the ground is red from the iron.   It was starting to heat up on the trail, but with the slight breeze blowing around the rock it was perfect.  

First sight of Cathedral Rock from the Trail.

First sight of Cathedral Rock from the Trail.

Starting out I didn’t see one person on the trail and I was feeling good and picking up the pace, coming around the first bend on the trail the Rock appeared in the distance.   I was so excited to be out on the trails, I was laughing and carrying on like a kid on the playground!!   I was in my element!

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock

It didn’t take me long and I was standing looking up at the Rock and ready to get up to the top.

View from 1/2 way up Cathedral Rock!

View from 1/2 way up Cathedral Rock!

I ran around to the front side and found the trail heading up, as I approached the 1/2 way point I turned around for some spectacular views.

View looking out from top of Cathedral Rock

View looking out from top of Cathedral Rock

Just like in the Grand Canyon I was immersed in awesomeness, every direction that I looked, I was treated with mind-blowing views!!!

Looking out toward Sedona!

Looking out toward Sedona!

When I made it to the top, I took the time to take a break and enjoy the sights.   Close to 30 minutes later, which seemed like 5, I decided to head back down.

Heading down off the trail

Heading down off the trail

I had only been out for 2 hours and covered maybe 6 miles, I decided to come down off the Rock and cross over onto another series of trails.   I would cover another 9 miles of trails before heading out to the airport.  The beauty and solitude of my run was one to remember, I totally enjoyed this last day of my adventure in the Red Rock Region of Sedona.

Oak Creek off of Templeton Trail!

Oak Creek off of Templeton Trail!

I wanted to hit the road to Phoenix by 5 p.m, by 4:30 I was back at Oak Creek, which is a half mile from my car.   Maybe it was because I was smack dab in the middle of a Vortex, or maybe it was the wind blowing through the trees, but I could have sworn I heard the creek calling my name…….”Joooeee, Joooe, come innnnn”   I couldn’t resist the cool waters after a long run on some dusty trails, I jumped in!!

Cooling off in Oak Creek!

Cooling off in Oak Creek!

It was time to end this adventure and head back to the Airport, I was cooled off and refreshed and although sad it was coming to an end, I was elated to think of all the adventure that I had in my short time out west.   I will definitely be back!!

Trails around Cathedral Rock

Trails around Cathedral Rock

I got back to my car, changed into some dry clothes, ate some food and hit the road to Phoenix.

Heading back to Phoenix!

Heading back to Phoenix!

I made it back to the airport with the car and the attendant scanned the return at exactly 8 p.m, when the car was due back.   The man said “you sure cut it close, you must have had a good trip”, that I did, I replied with a smile “It was one awesome Adventure”!!!”   

As the plane took off and sailed into the night, heading back to Michigan, I closed my eyes and drifted off into sleep, dreaming of all the beauty that I took in over the past 4 days.     This trip will be another awesome memory, burned into my mind, that I’m sure I’ll retrieve many times on those days when I’m  stressed by life’s demands, like an aspirin for a headache.    Just what the doctor ordered!

JJ

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Grand Canyon Adventures!!!!.. Day 3

Day 3:  Two trails, 15 miles, 8 hours and the Drive to Sedona.   After day 2 in the canyon, travelling down to the river and back and covering 25 miles, I thought maybe I’d be tired and want to do some relaxing on Day 3.    My original plan for day 3 was to make my way out to the  Hermit Trail at the west end of the South Rim.   I wanted to get an early start and explore as much of the Hermit Trailhead as I could.   I was confident I could make it down to Hermit Creek, about 8 miles down the trail, a total of 16 out and back….if I felt good!  

Looking out from the Grandview trailhead

Looking out from the Grandview trailhead

 I slept good the night before and when I woke, around 5:00 a.m. on day 3,  to my surprise,  I felt great!  I thought my legs would feel sore and tight, like they’ve felt before, after running a marathon or 50k.   I spent some time stretching the night before, which might have helped.   I fired up the stove and got the coffee and oatmeal going.    This day I wanted to do more running and use my new Ultimate Direction Pack.    While I was waiting for the water to boil, I started getting things together and loaded into the pack.   I rolled up two  peanut butter and jelly burritos and some nuts for the days adventure.    I was planning on hitting the road at the end of the day, heading to Sedona, so I packed up the tent into the car as well.    When I finished packing, I ate my oatmeal, an apple and my cup of Joe, I was ready to go.

Grandview trailhead sign.

Grandview trailhead sign.

 It was 6:30 by the time I entered the park and just like the previous days,  there was little traffic, most of the visitors to the park were still in bed.   One nice thing about the park is that the shuttle buses out to the trail heads, start running around 4 a.m. for the hikers and backpackers that want to get a jump on the day and inevitably, the heat.   I knew that I had a long day ahead of me, so I took that extra hour to sleep in, If I could get out on the trail by 7, Id be happy.

Heading down on the Grandview Trail.

Heading down on the Grandview Trail.

I showed my 5-day park pass to the ranger as I entered the park and continued down the 5 mile stretch of road to the rim, where all the lodges and backcountry office are located.  I was going to park at the backcountry office, walk the 1/2 mile to where I needed to catch the shuttle bus out to the Hermit Trailhead.   I’m not sure how I made this last minute decision, it might be that I’m easily distracted or my curiousity to explore, whatever the reason, as I approached a fork in the road, I noticed a sign with an arrow that pointed to the Grandview Trail and without hesitation I veered right and thought “I’ve got some time, I’ll just check out where the trailhead is for future reference”.    One of the things I like about travelling alone is that my plans can be fluid, changing as I go…the true recipe for adventure!!

Grandview trailhead sign

The Grandview Trail is a rugged trail, nothing like the South Kaibab or the Bright Angel, with  more beautiful views of the canyon.  There’s parking at the trailhead with a lookout point and information about the trail.   As I was reading about the trail I started to take interest in the history and ruggedness of the trail, even though my plan was to get to the Hermit Trail, I wanted to drop down onto this trail to see what it was all about.

I ran down the trail the best I could without taking a spill, jumping from rock to rock and dropping fast into the canyon.   It didn’t take me long and I was at Coconino Saddle, just over a mile down.   I stopped for a moment, checked the time,  then kept going.   I was going to run down to the Miners Spring Junction, but the trail was becoming more rugged and steep and it was harder to keep up my pace.    I stopped on the trail and checked the time again, I’d been on the trail for a little over an hour.   If I was going to make it to the Hermit Trail, I would have to turn around then and head back up to the rim.   A rule of thumb for hiking down any of the Canyon’s trails is that however long it takes to hike down a trail, plan on it taking twice that long to hike back up.   I proved that on the more traveled Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab,   that rule might be a little conservative, on the Grandview Trail, give yourself at least that much time!!

Another view of the Canyon...seems to never get old!!

Another view of the Canyon…seems to never get old!!

It was 3 hours later and I arrived back at the top of the Rim.   It was close to 10 and I needed to get to the Hermit Trail.  Now I’d have to re-evaluate how far down to go on the Hermit Trail once I got there.    The park doesn’t allow cars to drive out to the Hermit Trailhead, so I had to park at the backcountry office and take the shuttle.    It took around 1/2 hour to get out to the Trailhead which I was regretting, until we started down the beautifully, scenic Hermit Road.   The road takes you along the ridge of the canyon with spectacular views of the Canyon, as you drive.  There’s 7 buses running one behind another around 10 minutes apart, which allows people to get off at a series of scenic overlooks where they can take pictures, then get back on the next bus if they prefer.   I was totally enjoying this ride and it gave me a chance to relax and rest up before I headed down the Hermit Trail.

Gift shop at the Trailhead in the Hermits Rest!

Gift shop at the Trailhead in the Hermits Rest!

I finally arrived at the Hermit Trail trailhead, as you step off the shuttle the first thing you see is Hermit’s Rest.   Hermit’s Rest is a stone building that was designed by Architect Mary Colter and built in 1914.   There’s a gift shop and snack bar inside of the building that I bypassed to get down onto the trail.

Trailhead sign...Hermits Trail

The trail, due to its rugged nature is not nearly as travelled as the South Kaibab and the Bright Angel Trail.   In fact I walked behind the building where the trail begins and I had to take a second look to make sure I was on the trail.  It seemed to be the only place to walk down.   Once I started down the trail became more recognizable.

Hermits Rest Trailhead

Hermits Rest Trailhead

After about a 1/2 mile down the trail, I began to pick up the pace, only slowing or stopping to snap some pictures.

Hermits Trail heading down!

Hermits Trail heading down!

I kept thinking that I really liked this trail and I was regretting not starting earlier than I did.   I wouldn’t be able to make it down to the bottom as I’d hoped, if I was to be on the road to Sedona by 6 p.m.    It was just after 11 so I still had some time to explore.   I probably wouldn’t make it down to the Hermit Creek at 7.8 miles down, maybe I’d make it 5 miles down.

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It was a beautiful partly cloudy day with a nice breeze and temperatures in the mid 80’s.  

Running along the rugged Hermits Trail

Running along the rugged Hermits Trail

At one point I was contemplating hiking down to the Campsite or even the Colorado River, then waiting to drive to Sedona the following day.   I ended up turning around at Lookout Point and heading back up the trail.

The Hermit Trail is less Travelled and loaded with Spectacular Views!!!

The Hermit Trail is less Travelled and loaded with Spectacular Views!!!

When I come back to the Grand Canyon I will make it a point to take the Hermit Trail down to the bottom of the canyon and camp out for a couple of nights.   This trail was becoming a favorite of mine, and one that I’ll re-visit.

Finally got in some Great Trail running!!!!

Finally got in some Great Trail running!!!!

Running up a short but steep section of stone set by park volunteers!

Running up a short but steep section of stone set by park volunteers!

I tried running most of the way back up the trail, but on some sections of the trail, it becomes difficult to run due to its ruggedness.  I was ok with that, as it gave me a chance to soak in the beauty of the canyon on my last day here.

Running along a ridge section!

Running along a ridge section!

The Hermit trail is much more remote than the other trails I was on.  In total I encountered two people on the trail.   I stopped to talk to one guy who was French, spent most of his life living in London, and currently works and lives in the Bahamas.   It was his first time in the Grand Canyon and he was there for 2 days to photograph the amazing beauty of the Canyon.    In my 3 short days in the Canyon I’ve had the opportunity to meet some very interesting people from all corners of the globe.  

Winding down fast into the Canyon on Hermits Trail

Winding down fast into the Canyon on Hermits Trail

On the hermit trail there's several of these rock overhangs.

I made it up to the top of the rim by 5 p.m at which time I would grab a shower and hit the road to Sedona, hopefully by 6.

The darker clouds moving in at the end of the day.

The darker clouds moving in at the end of the day.

The darker clouds started moving in toward the end of the day with winds gusting across the  trail.  It was a wonderful sight and the end to an amazing three days in the Grand Canyon and one amazing adventure.  It was time to head to the red rock region of Sedona.   It was one memorable adventure at the Grand Canyon and I hope to come back someday soon!! 

JJ

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Grand Canyon Adventures…Day 2!!

Before writing about my day 2 adventure, I have to explain something that happened in day 1!   Do you remember during day 1 when I mentioned I couldn’t find my new Ultimate Direction Pack that my friends from work bought me?   Well after eating dinner and heading back to my campsite at the end of day one, I drove into the campground and as I was driving by the camp host’s site, I saw my pack hanging in a tree near his camper.   I DID have the pack the night that I arrived and I put in on the trunk of the car as I was setting up camp, just as I thought.   What happened was, the wind picked up that night and it was gusting to the point that it was hard to set up the tent, therefore blowing the pack off of my car into the campsite  just down from mine.   The couple that was camping there, left while I was out on the trail that first day and so they dropped the pack off at the camp host’s site.   The host told me that they didn’t know who’s it was, so they dropped it off with him.   He hung it in the tree hoping someone would recognize it and pick it up.    Lucky for me I saw it…YES now I had my Awesome Ultimate Direction Pack, back!!!

Top of South Kaibab Trail

Top of South Kaibab Trail

Day 2:  After a good night sleep, I was up at 5 a.m and ready to get started for my day 2 Grand Canyon Adventure!!   I was a little surprised at how good I felt after spending 9.5 hours in the canyon the day before, although it was a relatively easy day.   My plan this day was to take the South Kaibab Trail down to where the Tonto Trail crosses and take it over to the Bright Angel Trail then back up to the rim.  The total miles for this hike is around 13 miles, not bad for the second day’s hike.  

South Kaibab to Tonto back up Bright Angel!

South Kaibab to Tonto back up Bright Angel!

Again, I wanted to hit the trail by 6 or 7 a.m to get an early start to beat the heat, but by time I packed everything up I needed and walked to the South Kaibab Trailhead it was 8 a.m.   Once at the trailhead I snapped a couple pictures, then started down the trail.   Immediately I noticed it was steeper going down than the Bright Angel and the Views were more than  spectacular!   At one point I was feeling a bit annoyed at myself for wanting to capture every ounce of the Canyon’s beauty with a picture, but I couldn’t resist.    I held the  camera in my hand as I started into an easy paced run down the dusty and winding trail, snapping pictures in all directions as I descended into the canyon.    The Canon Powershot A3200 camera that my friend Scott lent me, must have one heck of an optical stabilizer, because I  was snapping away as I ran and the pictures came out amazing.   I’d recommend this camera to anyone.

I took this picture while on the run!!

I took this picture while on the run!!

I was making good time finding my way down the trail, only stopping to drink some water t0 stay hydrated.    There’s no water on the South Kaibab trail, so it’s imperative to carry enough, especially during the late spring and summer months.   I was carrying around 4 liters, which turned out to be much more than I needed on this trail,  better to have too much than not enough I guess.   I actually ended up using the same pack as the day before because I could fit more bottles of water in it.    My new Ultimate Direction Pack would have worked great if I would have taken 3 liters or less.   I’ll know for next time.   I continued down into the canyon and made it to Cedar Ridge in good time.    Cedar Ridge consists of wide, flat  open area with a couple lone trees offering a patch of shade and some toilets.   It seemed to be a good place to take a break and get out of the fleece and long tights I was wearing up to that point.   When I started from the rim, the temps were in the 60’s, but at Cedar Ridge they were already in the low 90’s.  I stuffed them in my pack, drank some water and took a few minutes to admire the views!

Cedar Ridge!!

Cedar Ridge!!

Spectacular Views from Cedar Ridge!!

I rested for 5 or 10 minutes while picking  up a conversation with two younger couples from Colorado.    I asked how far down they were going and one of the guys said “down to where they tell you NOT to hike to on a  day trip.. the Colorado”.   They looked fit and were confident in their abilities, in fact they said they had just come from 3 days hiking Bryce Canyon.    I thought for a second then said “awesome, mind if I join you?”  They were excited to have some company, “as long as your friendly” they responded.   In typical Joe fashion, I changed plans mid stream and now I was in for a longer day.   I was totally stoked to be seeing the Colorado river and the Phantom ranch, it was going to be an awesome adventure!!

Heading down to the Colorado River with my new friends from Colorado!!

Heading down to the Colorado River at a fast pace with my new friends from Colorado!!  

I was in the rear taking some time to snap a few  pictures, then running down to catch up with my guides. 

getting closer to the Colorado River

getting closer to the Colorado River

As we made our way down the South Kaibab Trail to the river, we seemed to be moving in unison, each of us immersed in deep thought, with just the sound of our steps on the dusty trail.   There was something spiritual about moving down the canyon in silence, surrounded by some of the most beautiful creation on earth.     It seemed like only minutes and we had traversed 4 or 5 miles to within site of the Colorado River.  I was feeling great!!

View of the Colorado River!!

View of the Colorado River!!

Stopping to Admire the view

stepping aside for the mule trail!

stepping aside for the mule trail!

The final stretch of the South Kaibab drops quickly over steep winding trail to a tunnel cut through the rock that opens up to the mighty Colorado River.  As you exit the dark tunnel and step out onto the walking bridge that crosses the Colorado, you feel as though you turned the page and stepped into a new chapter of awesomeness!   One can’t help but to stop and relish the experience!

Coming out of the tunnel onto the bridge crossing the Colorado River!

Coming out of the tunnel onto the bridge crossing the Colorado River!

Once you cross the river, the trail takes you through an intersection that heads up onto the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim or to the Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Creek campground, eventually leading to the Bright Angel Trail.   We followed the trail heading to the Phantom Ranch but first we HAD to stop and soak our feet in the 55 degree Colorado waters.   There’s a white sandy beach area that welcomes hikers to do just that.   While we were there we stopped to eat some lunch followed by a  heart stopping plunge into the frigid water.  

Soaking in the Bright Angel Creek...a welcome stop on a 95 deg day!!!

Soaking in the Bright Angel Creek…a welcome stop on a 95 deg day!!!

After eating one of the best tasting peanut butter and jelly burritos ever and cooling off in the River, I decided that it was time for me to break off from the group and head down to the Ranch for some exploration.   I thanked my friends for the trip down and allowing me to join them, said my goodbyes, then headed down the trail.  

Looking back at the beach and bridge as I head to the Phantom Ranch

Looking back at the beach and bridge as I head to the Phantom Ranch

From the Beach it’s about a half mile to the Phantom Ranch, first passing through the Bright Angel Campground.    Even though it didn’t take me long to get to the campground, my clothes had dried and I was feeling the heat again.   The campground is a beautiful oasis at the bottom of the canyon, with the Bright Angel Creek running right through it.   I couldn’t resist the calling of the cool bubbling stream to stop again and soak my legs and dusty feet.   The beauty of this day was that I had no schedule or even sense of time, why not enjoy the moment.

Taking time to cool off in the Bright Angel Creek!!

Taking time to cool off in the Bright Angel Creek!!

After cooling off I headed down the trail to the Phantom Ranch.   I was told by someone on the trail that If I go to the Phantom Ranch, be sure to get a glass of their famous and most refreshing lemonade.     I couldn’t think of a better way to end my rest, before heading up 9 miles, than a cold glass of lemonade.  

Phantom Ranch dining lodge and Lemonaide!!

Phantom Ranch dining lodge and Lemonade!!

 I normally wouldn’t carry any money with me when venturing out onto a trail since it would serve me no purpose, yet for some reason I grabbed a 10 dollar bill and stuck it in my pack.   Good thing I did, because lemonade was 2 bucks a glass, worth every penny of it, mind you.   I sat quietly under a shade tree and enjoyed my lemonade while watching some weary hikers eat their lunch and a small group of runners doctoring up their blistered feet, before heading out of the canyon.  I was relaxed but not tired and anxious to work my way up the last 9 miles to the Rim.

Heading out of the Phantom Ranch.   Horses coming in to the Ranch to stay overnight!

Heading out of the Phantom Ranch. Guests on mules coming into the Ranch to stay overnight!

 Heading out on the trail through the campground I followed the signs that said Bright Angel Trail, which led me down a short trail to another suspension walking bridge and over the Colorado.  After crossing the River, I picked up the Bright Angel that meanders along the river for about a 1/2 mile, till it turned into the canyon for the long climb out.

Looking back at the second bridge crossing the Colorado River leaving behind Bright Angel Campground and the Phantom Ranch...the climb begins!!

Looking back at the second bridge crossing the Colorado River leaving behind Bright Angel Campground and the Phantom Ranch…the climb begins!!

The longest section of the Bright Angel Trail that DOESN’T have drinking water on the trail, is from the Colorado River to the Indian Gardens Campground that is 5 miles up.   I made sure that I filled up before I left the campground earlier, knowing the temperatures were near 95 F.   The one nice thing about the trail along the first mile and a half stretch is that it follows a stream and I could wet my hat and scarf to keep cool.    I hiked for over an hour and a half before I saw one other person on the trail.   At first it was a little eerie being alone and looking up at nothing but canyon walls, but  it didn’t take long and I was cruising along deep in thought.  I was working my body physically, yet de-stressing my mind totally…..I was in a good place!!

Remote section of Trail heading to Indian Gardens Campground

Remote section of Trail heading to Indian Gardens Campground

I saw my first signs of life about a 1/2 mile from the Indian Gardens Campground, it was a guy running slowly past me.   It was strange watching him because he was running as though he was focussing on his form, knees up, arms pumping forward and back using his upper body, back straight, gate was in check, yet he was moving barely faster than I was.   He  looked somewhat animated in his movements and  offering only a slight  nod as he passed by, as though he was on some sort of assignment.     He may have been camping below and out for a training run, whatever the reason, it was good to see some life.   A short time later I arrived at the Campground.  

Indian Gardens map at the entrance to the campground!

Indian Gardens map at the entrance to the campground!

The Indian Gardens Campground is also a small oasis of greenery and shade with a stream running through it.  There was a water source where some hikers were hanging out to rest and get out of the sun.   To most it was the last stop on their way down, then they would turn around and head back up.    I could see myself camping here someday, like the other campgrounds in the canyon it requires a backcountry permit.   I stayed just long enough to fill my water bottles and then I headed out.

Leaving Indian Gardens Campground looking ahead to the final 5 mile stretch out of the Canyon

Leaving Indian Gardens Campground looking ahead to the final 5 mile stretch out of the Canyon

I was still feeling good heading out of the campground and since I was near this part of the trail the previous day, I put the camera away and focused on hiking and running the last miles.   I started running up the canyon at a fairly slow pace, stopping to walk every 20 minutes or so till I was within site of the Lodge at the top of the Bright Angel Trail.   When I stepped up onto the rim, it was 20 degrees cooler, so I threw my fleece back on and admired the views while celebrating my accomplishment of covering almost 20 miles in about 9 hours 20 minutes.   After turning to walk back to my car, I realized I was parked about 5 miles away near the South Kaibab Trail, I was at the Bright Angel.   I could have taken the shuttle back closer to my car, but I decided to run instead.   In total I covered nearly a marathon distance.   After a hot shower and eating some hot soup, I was exhausted, but also thinking about what trails I would explore  for my day 3 adventure!!   As I was looking at my map under the glow of my headlamp in the tent, when I fell off to sleep.   Day 2 was another awesome adventure!!

JJ

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Grand Canyon Adventures, first experience!…Day 1

It’s been a long time coming  but I finally decided to make the trip out to the Grand Canyon.    Hiking the Grand Canyon has been on my top 10 list of places to visit for many years.  I’ve just never made it a priority , until now.   Besides the obvious of it being one of the natural wonders of the world and a must for anyone to experience at least once in their life, I decided to go this year for a couple other reasons.    First was for the adventure and second was to test my physical abilities and fitness level associated with  running  significant distances downhill and uphill.

Uphill running - Grand Canyon

Uphill running – Grand Canyon

Recently, I’ve been interested in doing more ultra distance running and even some long distance fastpacking.   I have a couple 50k’s under my belt and one unofficial 40 miler.   With this in mind, I’ve started looking into long distance races across the country and reading about some of today’s elite runners and what races they do and how they train.   One thing I noticed is that many of them have made claim to running across the Grand Canyon from one rim to the other and then back in one stretch or more commonly known as “rim to rim to rim” or R2R2R.  

Looking out across the Canyon from a point on the South Kaibab Trail.

Looking out across the Canyon from a point on the South Kaibab Trail.

The rim to rim to rim is not an official race but more of a right of passage for many experienced ultra-runners, some even setting ridiculous records in the process.   My first thought was “hey if they can do it why couldn’t I”?  I mean it’s only a canyon right and a mere 45 miles?  So this past winter I asked my son if he wanted to run the canyon, rim to rim to rim.    Living at home for 20 or so years and knowing his dad, he humored me and said “sure let’s do it”, at the same time I’m sure he was thinking “he’ll get distracted with some other thing and forget all about it” or ” Yeah right dad you might want to run a flat 50 miler first”.   Hey, I’m an optimist and I set my goals high, what can I say :).    I was semi-serious about this one.

Running out of Canyon on the Hermit Trail

Running out of Canyon on the Hermit Trail

As I’ve  read the many blogs and accounts of the runners that have run the R2R2R, I found times ranging from the current record of under 7 hours (most recent being 6 hours 40-something minutes), to over 18 hours, all being experienced ultra-distance runners with mountain experience.  The one common statement that I kept reading was that you should NOT attempt this run if you aren’t experienced in running several if not many ultra-distance races in hilly or mountainous terrain where you cover a lot of elevation gains and losses.   One could get themselves in a dangerous situation with dehydration and heat exhaustion if they weren’t careful.

Just me!!

Just me!!

 A few people have lost their lives running in the canyon including an elite marathoner,  an example that the park service uses.    I’m not as young and stupid as I once used to be, so I started to reconsider my goal…at least for this year.   I decided I’d still go to the canyon, but instead of attempting to run rim to rim to rim, I’d just go out and explore the canyon and test my abilities.   My son started a new job and was a little strapped for the cash so he decided to sit it out this year.   I was on my own.

South Kaibab trail heading down to the Colorado river.

South Kaibab trail heading down to the Colorado river.

At first I was planning on the end of April but I read that some of the water spots would not be turned on till May 15th, the same time they open up the North Rim Park.   I decided on May 15th through the 19th, I bought my ticket.   It would be good to get away from the business of work anyway and spend some time exploring and camping.   I flew into Phoenix from Grand Rapids, MI. and drove out to the canyon with a rented car.  Day one was spent travelling.   I arrived at the canyon around 7 p.m Arizona time, where I got in a short hike within the park along the rim, followed by checking into the Ten-x National campground located just 3 miles down the road from the park.  My plan was to wake up early and hit the trail.

starting the day with some coffee and oatmeal

starting the day with some coffee and oatmeal

The campground that I stayed at  was a National forest campground “ten-x campground” located just 3 miles outside the park.   Aside from temperatures in the 30’s and a large rock underneath my tent, I slept fairly well at night.   I was up at 5:15 and excited to get started.   I made my coffee and oatmeal to get started for the day and then prepared some peanut butter and jelly burritos for eating out on the trail.   I was excited to try out my new Ultimate Direction running  pack that my awesome friends from work bought for me to take on the trip.  There was only one problem;  I couldn’t find my pack that I JUST had the night before.   I searched for an hour for that pack before coming to the conclusion that I was either losing my mind or someone came by and took it from my camp.   All I could think of was how I’d explain this one to my friends back at work.   Fortunately I had my other pack, in which i ended up using my first day.

Looking back at the first tunnel heading down on the Bright Angel Trail

Looking back at the first tunnel heading down on the Bright Angel Trail

My first Adventure was going to be heading down the Bright Angel Trail.    Bright Angel Trail is more of a ravine trail, as opposed to the South Kaibab, which is considered a ridge trail.  The Bright Angel offers water every mile and a half and has more shaded areas to get out of the sun, as well as being a little less steep.   Since this was my first visit to the Canyon I thought the Bright Angel would be a good choice to get my feet wet in some Canyon Hiking.   My plan was to hike down to Plateau point just out past the Indian Gardens Campground, take some pictures and hike back out.  In total it would be approximately 12 miles out and back.   I wanted to hike/run to get an idea as to how conditioned I was for canyon running.   In the future when I come back I’ll skip the pictures and run the distance.   

Looking down at the trail that winds down to the Colorado

Looking down at the trail that winds down to the Colorado

 

It was around 9 o’clock by the time I actually started down the trail, being 3 hours later than planned.  I figured I could still make it out to the Plateau and back before sundown and if I didn’t I had my headlamp.   Typically the temperatures in the canyon in  mid May are around 85 deg F, although at the backcountry office, it had posted the day’s temperatures  to be in the low 90’s.   I had plenty of supplies and the heat normally doesn’t bother me so I wasn’t too concerned.   I headed down at a good walking pace, even running for 10 minutes at a time.   I made it to the first water station and rest stop a mile and half down in around 55 minutes.   Not too bad considering that I was stopping to snap 50 pictures or so.   The Canyon is Amazing and every direction that I looked I felt was worthy of a photo.   In the back of my mind I knew that a lot of them would all look the same, but hey that’s the beauty of digital photography, I can always delete them later.

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I did stop for a few minutes to replace the water that I drank up to that point and then I headed out to the 3 mile water station.  It took me closer to an hour to get to the next stop, again snapping 50 more pictures.    I refilled with water and kept moving this time as I was feeling good.   I started to pick up the pace a bit to make up some time.   I don’t have an iPhone or any way to measure the temperature, but it was starting to feel like  more than 90 degrees.  I started wetting my hat and scarf with water to help keep my head and neck cool.  

Taking a short break.

Taking a short break.

I was a little more than 4 miles down the canyon when I saw a gentleman leaning against the rock wall underneath an overhang in a small patch of shade.   I could overhear him talking to a park ranger on his phone and he was asking to be helped out of the canyon.   My first reaction was “damn is there cell reception down here?” I thought for certain there’d be no reception and I didn’t even bother bringing my phone down.   The man wasn’t looking too good, so I decided that I’d stop and see if I could offer any assistance.   He remained on the phone and I could hear the conversation with the Ranger.   He commenced to tell the ranger that he was borderline diabetic, and his heart was not in the best shape, not to mention that felt like he was going to pass out any second and they really needed to get him out of the canyon.   The rangers reply was “sir, there’s only one way for you to get out of the canyon and that’s the same way you got down..by walking”   Although they weren’t jumping to run down and carry him out, they were nice enough about the whole matter and told him to hydrate and stay in the shade till he felt better, then they instructed him to head down to the campground where he could find a cool stream to lay in and some shade to relax.  They told him to wait  until it started to cool down and then a ranger would come by to assist.  They had a ranger on the trail but she was assisting two other individuals further down the canyon.   I can see how people get themselves in trouble by overestimating their abilities to hike back out of the canyon, especially when the temperature exceeds 85 or so.    I was told that the temperature at that point was 104 deg F which is about what It felt like.

3-Mile water stop and shelter.   Mid day with Temps over 100 deg F!

3-Mile water stop and shelter. Mid day with Temps over 100 deg F!

After the man got off the phone I told him I would help him out the  best I could.    After all I read about the dangers of the canyon, I was more than prepared and stocked with enough water, electrolytes, salty snacks, gu packets and enough other food for 3 people, not to mention a small medical kit.   I In fact I was more than happy to unload some of my weight that I was carrying and starting to feel on the shoulders.   I made up a full bottle of  NUUN electrolyte drink and gave him a gu pack for some energy.   I also had a couple SaltStick tablets, some salty nuts and an aspirin for his heart.   After almost an hour I could actually see him come back to life as his energy levels came back.   I wet my scarf and put it under his hat to keep his head cool and asked if he was ready to head out.   The ranger really wanted him to walk back down to the campground where they could better assist him, but he felt good enough to start heading up out of the canyon.   In the end it was a good decision.   I told him we would break the trek down into manageable steps of 20 minutes hiking, then we’d take a break in the shade, followed by another 20 minutes.   We headed up, but the 20 minutes were more like 10 or even 5 starting out but we were making progress.

Heading out of the Canyon!!

Heading out of the Canyon!!

After about an hour we arrived at the 3 mile water stop and shelter, where we hung out and rested for an hour.   I made up another bottle of the Nuun for my new friend and ate some food.   After an hour we hit the trail again.   It was another 2 hours  to the next water stop where again we rested, but only for 30 minutes.   We had 1.5 miles to go to the rim and my friend was getting motivated.    The last stretch we pushed a little harder and we hiked for at least 20 minutes at a time until we could see the lodge at the top of the trailhead.  At this point we were home free.  

The final stretch of the Bright Angel!!

The final stretch of the Bright Angel!!

In total I was in the canyon for almost 10 hours, much of it resting and helping my new friend hike out.     I didn’t get out to the Plateau or run any distances but it did give me a feel for what the canyon had to offer and it was one awesome adventure!!   The man bought me dinner to show his appreciation for helping him hike out of the canyon and sharing my nutrition, which at the end of the day, definitely hit the spot.   After my first day out on the trail, I felt pretty confident I could handle some distances on the trail.    I headed back to the campground to prepare for the next day’s adventure!!

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Running familiar trails

I found myself visiting an old friend this morning: the trails of  Weko and Warren Dunes along the Lake Michigan coastline in Southwest Michigan.   I’ve always found that I know every intimate details about the routes I run the most and the Weko and Warren Dune trails I used to run often.    On this trail, for instance, I notice which trees have been downed from the last storm, where someone has carved out a new path, a pile of branches which someone has cleaned off the trail, how long it’s been since someone has come through and done some trail maintenance, and so on.   Even though I’ve moved from the area and only get down once or twice a year to run these trails, today it felt as though I never left.    I was giddy with excitement as I ran along the deep wooded ravines on the quiet inner trails and on the outer ridgeline trails with spectacular views of Lake Michigan.    Yes I was back in my element and home on my favorite trails!!

Sandy point off one of the ridge trails..Great place to soak in the views!

Sandy point off one of the ridge trails..Great place to soak in the views!

The indians that lived in this area centuries ago used to claim that the woods and trails in the dune region were healing grounds for their people.   I think of that whenever I run out there and  can attest that I have been healed many times on these trails over the years.   Regardless of my state of mind when starting off on my journey onto the trails, whether walking or running, I always finish feeling refreshed, cleansed and “healed” of any stress or problems I was dealing with.   I’ve run on some incredibly beautiful trails throughout Michigan and the United States but none match the spiritual effects that I find while running  these trails.   Each time I come back I’m reminded of that.

Heading out onto the trails... beautiful start!!

Heading out onto the trails… beautiful start!!

A few years back I used to put on a 1/2 marathon run on these trails and the first couple years the race was in late March.   I didn’t want it to necessarily be a trail race but more of a trail experience that I could share will the local trail runners followed by an awesome all you can eat breakfast buffet in the beach house.   March was a good time because it was before the racing season started for a lot of the runners and the snow would be melted off the trails.   Although the experience is one to remember in any weather conditions, I was a little disappointed the second year when the fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than 6 feet out.      For the first time runners they couldn’t appreciate all the views throughout the course.  Nevertheless the runners were all smiles at the finish!

All smiles after 13.1 miles of a gueling course.

All smiles after 13.1 miles of a grueling course.

As I was running this time the thought of organizing another Spring run crossed my mind, but only for a moment before drifting back into the glory of  running with an old friend!   If you have that one special place to run or spend time, make sure you take the time to visit it.   I know I will!!!  

JJ

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Winter Fat Tire Riding!

Ever since I watched videos of the early riders of Fat Tire bikes in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I’ve wanted to ride one.   I’m not certain exactly when or where the first “fat tire bike” originated, but I do know they were designed  with extra wide tires that give them the ability to handle a variety of terrain.   The bikes glide over hard-pack snow, loose dirt, sand, and pretty much anything except deep, unpacked snow (of course I had to test the later).   Some of the first bikes were custom built and ridden in Alaska’s Iditarod Race Invitational ,  in which racers can chose to cover the distance either running, using skis, or on a bike.   It wasn’t until 2005, that Surly bikes out of Minnesota started commercially manufacturing the “Pugsley” , that you started seeing fat tire bikes in bike shops.  

Night ride through Millenium Park!

Night ride through Millenium Park!

 Fat tire bikes have names like Fatback, Surly Pugsley, Salsa Mukluk and Sandman Hoggar, that are slowly becoming part of the cycling industry across the nation.    Our own Grand Rapids bike frame manufacturer 616 Bicycle Fabrication started producing steel fat tire bike frames  and hubs, with plans to come out with their own line of fat bikes!   

The Surly Pugsley!

The Surly Pugsley!

If you’re like me and you don’t have $1600 to drop on a fat tire bike,  you might consider renting one for a day or weekend.    Many bike shops have a selection of fat tire bikes that you can rent at a reasonable price.    I was surprised to find out that many mountain bikers are renting them out for racing in the  fat bike race series,  that are popping up everywhere.  

Fat tire ride along the beach!

Fat tire ride along the beach!

For me, I’ve always wanted to ride along the frozen Lake Michigan Beach.   The snow on the beach was 4 to 5 inches deep, which wasn’t as easy as riding on packed snow but doable.  

Nate cranking it out!

Nate cranking it out!

My friend Nate and I rode an 8 mile stretch  along the beach at a respectable pace.   We did have to work some, but once we geared down closer to the granny, we found our rhythm.

Deciding not to exit off the beach at Olive shores.....too many steps.

Deciding not to exit off the beach at Olive shores…..too many stairs.

Beautiful stretch of beach!

Beautiful stretch of beach!

It was an awesome ride on the beach, the day was windy but thankfully the wind was blocked by the large Ice mounds along the shore.  

Nate walking it off the beach!

Nate walking it off the beach!

We opted to exit off the beach and ride the roads back to our car.   All in all it was an awesome fat tire ride.   I might not be purchasing a fat tire bike in the near future, but I’ll definitely rent again.    If I don’t make it back out this winter for a fat tire adventure, I have plans to ride the sandy two-tracks of Manistee National Park this summer for a weekend adventure!  

So don’t wait, get out and find YOUR fat tire adventure!!!

JJ

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MIchigan Ice Climbing

If you live in Michigan and you’re looking for some winter adventure and outdoor fun, you don’t have to travel far to find it.   I keep a pair of snowshoes in my car so with a little snow I can be exploring a local patch of woods or ravine anywhere near work or home within minutes.    Even with all the adventures out my backyard, I like to travel to Northern Lower Michigan or the Upper Peninsula Michigan at least once during the winter where there is typically more snowfall and fewer people.  One of my favorite places to head is to the Superior Shore of the Upper Peninsula for some snowshoeing and ice climbing.   This year my friend Nate and I decided to go to the Michigan Ice Climbing festival in Munising Michigan.  

Heading North!

Heading North!

The Michigan Ice Climbing Festival is a 4 day event put on by Down Wind Sports of Marquette Michigan that brings in professional climbers from around the world to give classes during the day and presentations in the evenings at one of the local establishments.   For a minimal fee you can sign up for gear rentals so all you need is some warm clothing.    Lines are set on a series of falls just outside of town for the newbies, the more experienced climbers might find  more challenging climbs farther out.    In the evenings there’s beer and food served with slide presentations put on by some of the worlds best climbers.  

Crossing the Mackinac  Bridge!

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge!

 If you’re new to Ice climbing or you’ve done it before and lack the gear and just want to get in a few climbs, then the Michigan Ice festival is a good choice.    Nate and I wanted to get in some snowshoeing and some climbing.   Nate has been rock climbing but never been on the Ice and even though I have Ice Climbed  in the past, I’m still a rookie.   The Ice festival was perfect for us, with the short weekend we could get in some climbing and some backcountry snowshoeing.

Nate gearing up before hiking out to the falls!

Nate gearing up before hiking out to the falls!

By the time we arrived in Munising and checked into our hotel it was 7 pm so we headed up to the bar/restaurant where the festivities and slide show were being held.      Down Wind Sports  had plenty of climbing gear and clothing available for purchase at 30% off retail prices.     A few of the sponsors had demos and displays set-up as well.   We arrived a little late to grab some of the demo clothing and free beer and giveaways so if you plan on attending my recommendation would be to get there as early as you can.    “FITS” socks rep was supposedly  giving away free socks and other goodies, all stuff we missed out on.   

Nate's belayer

Nate’s belayer

Our plan was to get back to the hotel and in bed early so we could get an early start the next morning.    I’ve always said that some of my best adventures happen when plans go out the window and that’s where they went that night.   Our neighbors were some party going snowmobilers from Detroit who were away on a “guys” week out.    Being the friendly people we are, it was hard to turn down their invite to join them for drinks and euchre in the hotel party lounge.    Instead of an early night to bed, it was 3 a.m before we headed back to the room and needless to say we weren’t the first in line to get geared up the next morning.

belaying for this climber...Nate taking the picture!!

belaying for this climber…Nate taking the picture!!

After a slow start the next morning, we signed out our gear and headed out to the climb site.   If you’re renting gear it’s best to get suited up as early as you can to avoid waiting.   In our case we weren’t moving too fast after our night with new friends so we endured at least an hour of waiting.    After making our way to the falls, we managed to get in some pretty good climbs.   By mid afternoon we were ready to get out and do some snowshoeing.    We grabbed some food and decided to head out to the lakeshore at Au Sable Point lighthouse to do some snowshoeing along the lakeshore and trails.

Co Rd 58 heading out to ausable point lighthouse

Co Rd 58 heading out to ausable point lighthouse

Before heading out from the falls we talked to the DNR officer and he told us the road might be snowy and visibility low.   He failed to mention that about 7 miles out on Co Rd. 58 the county stops plowing the road so the last 10 miles can be used by snowmobilers.    We would find out the hard way.    We were cruising along  at around 50 miles and hour discussing what course we would hike, when without warning we catapulted our car up onto a 4 foot wall of snow.  

Nate's futile attempt to dig us out with a snowshoe!!

Nate’s futile attempt to dig us out with a snowshoe!!

Considering we were in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight, we started the long process of digging ourselves out.   Nate manned a snowshoe and I grabbed the camera 🙂 .    We didn’t have a shovel to use  but even if we did have one it would have taken us till spring to get us out.    We stopped to take a break from our feeble attempt to free us from the wall of snow we were sitting on when we saw two pick-up trucks wheeling by.   We tried to wave them down but they obviously weren’t in the mood to help us out.   After another 15 minutes a local guy in an F250 pickup pulled up to help us out.   We lucked out, he had all the gear needed to pull us out.   It took a few attempts but he finally got us off the snow bank and back onto the plowed road.   Nate handed him some cash and we were back on the road.

Back on the road after being stuck!!

Back on the road after being stuck!!

We lost about an hour of daylight by burying ourselves in the snowbanks but we didn’t give up on getting out for some epic snowshoeing.   We decided to head back toward town and head out to miner’s falls.    We had headlamps so if we ran out of daylight while out on the trail it wasn’t a big deal.   In fact we were hoping to get in some night snowshoeing.  

Nate heading out to Miner's Falls!!

Nate heading out to Miner’s Falls!!

Great powder on the trail!!

Awesome Sunset through the trees near the falls!!

Awesome Sunset through the trees near the falls!!

Miners Falls

Nate and I headed out to the falls with about an hour and a half of daylight left.    The distance to the falls was a little over 5 miles which took us two hours of steady shoeing.   It was a fantastic night that was full of stars and a hazy 3/4 moon.   When we arrived at the falls we took a short break to enjoy the evening stillness and quiet before starting our long haul back to the car.     The temperature that night was hovering around 10 degrees F but with no wind it was a perfect night to be out in the woods.   We got back to the car and headed back to the bar to return our gear.   We were too tired to listen to the evening’s presentation so we grabbed some food and headed back to the hotel.    It was an awesome day full of adventure!

Nate at the end of our long day of Adventure!!

Nate at the end of our long day of Adventure!!

Even though our neighbors were up and ready to party we passed and headed to bed early.   After a good night sleep we were up early and ready for breakfast, a short snowshoe and then hit the road for the ride home.   It was less than a 72 hour adventure but it was awesome one to remember.    I Can’t wait to get back up to the U.P. Michigan for my next adventure!!   What is YOUR next winter adventure!!!

Heading back to the lower part of the state!!

Heading back to the lower part of the state!!

We had to stop for at least one of the UP's famous Pasties!!!

We had to stop for at least one of the UP’s famous Pasties!!!

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Climb indoors for some winter Adventure!!

Sometimes in winter it can be hard getting motivated to stay active or get outside, especially when it’s cold and there’s no snow to play in.   I still get out to run on the trails and ride my mountain bike when I can, but with the short days and cold evenings I find myself looking for something else to keep me active.    I could go to the pool, run on the treadmill, or maybe lift some weights, but in winter I like to switch it up  just to keep life interesting.     The one activity I like to do in the winter (although it’s certainly not exclusive to winter) is climbing indoors at the climbing gym.

Joe is 75 years old and climbs 3 days a week!!

Joe is 75 years old and climbs 3 days a week!!

I don’t do a lot of  climbing throughout the year but I do enjoy it and it’s a great fun way to work-out indoors and meet some pretty cool people of all ages.    In February this year I plan on heading up to Munising, Michigan for the Michigan Ice Festival  with my friend Nate, so getting down to the climbing gym will help me brush up on my climbing skills and work all the muscles of the body that I’ll be using. 

Nate taking a break before tackling the advanced route!

Nate taking a break before tackling the advanced route!

One thing about  rock climbing is that it’s not only a fun and exciting past time but one of the best all round body workouts you can get.    After an hour or two of climbing you’ll feel tightness in muscles you forgot you had and one’s you don’t normally use when walking, running or cycling.   You’ll start to build the muscles in your arms from pulling through and the legs from pushing off  from one hold to the next.   Climbing is much more fun than doing endless reps with dumbells at the gym.

bouldering wall

bouldering wall

Climbing is also one of the best core workouts as it takes great core control and strength to balance and manoeuvre your body into positions to get to the next hold.  If you have had a bad back and tried everything consider going to a climbing gym and doing some light climbing.  Over time you will build up the stabilizing (core) muscles which protect the spine and relieve pain.   It worked for me.

This kid was 7 years old and making it look easy

This kid was 7 years old and making it look easy

Another thing I like about climbing is that it doesn’t only work the muscles of the body but it also works the mind.   Climbing is like problem solving which takes body control and a great deal of focus, much like yoga.  I learn new techniques every time I go to the gym.   At first glance you might think that you simply start climbing up the wall but every route takes a different strategy.   Watch and learn from some of the more skilled climbers and you’ll start to understand, it’s like putting together a puzzle while working out.

overhang!

overhang!

Climbing is also a great way to improve on your flexibility.   It’s important to warm up and stretch before you get started but you’ll find after a few sessions on the wall you’ll start improve on your flexibility.   Many times you’ll be stretched out on the wall with fingers on a hold, contemplating the next move and you’ll feel the stretch in your muscles.   Again this is similar to yoga such as when you get into a pose and hold it.   

More bouldering walls

More bouldering walls

If you’re looking for a way to lose some weight then get down to climb!   The combination of strength training and cardio (yes climbing requires stamina and endurance similar to cross-country running or skiing) is the perfect combination for burning calories.   For an hour of climbing at the gym you can burn upward of 650 calories.   You’ll notice that you don’t see many overweight climbers, and again it’s fun!!

Advanced route!

Advanced route!

So if you’re wanting to start that after-holiday plan to get healthy and start feeling good, yet dread the thought of staring at a blank wall while running on the treadmill, I’d recommend finding a climbing gym and give it a try.    You’ll be surprised how much fun you’ll have and new friends you’ll make.   

 Climb Inside and find YOUR adventure!!

JJ

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Building my first ski pulk for winter adventure!!

With the arrival of winter and snow, I’m excited to get out for some winter backcountry adventures.    Typically my winter adventures are in Mid or Northern Michigan and with snowshoes and a pack.    Since most trips are no more than 2 nights sleeping under the stars, I can pack relatively light (as light as can be expected with winter gear), with not a lot of the creature comforts of home or huge meals.   I will try to cover as much distance during the day and into the dark before stopping to cook a hot meal, followed with a few hours of sleep, then start off again in the morning.   Even when attempting to travel light  in the winter, my pack can easily reach 40 plus pounds which can seem like 150 backbreaking pounds by the end of a long day snowshoeing.   I’ve seen people on the trail with sleds but I never thought it was something I’d need for short weekend trips.    I’ve always thought of sleds or ski pulks being used for long polar expeditions, until this year!  

Heading out for my first trial run

Heading out for my first trial run

I have a friend Matt, who’s also a co-worker of mine, that got me interested in trying a ski pulk.   Matt has extensive experience at not only short weekend trips, but longer expeditions for up to  2 weeks and longer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Canadian backcountry.  After talking to Matt about his winter adventures in the backcountry using a ski pulk to carry his gear, I was excited to give it a try.  Before purchasing or building a ski pulk I’ve learned there’s no simple answer to a best design and even with the information found online it’s still hard to know the best design without trying it out with a load.  It comes down to first understanding the terrain that you’re traversing , the size of your load and weather conditions (extreme cold and deep snow can make things break).      Matt being an engineer and an experienced backcountry guide, saved me a lot of time by sharing what he’s learned through days and weeks out in the backcountry pulling many different variations of designs until he developed the best reliable sled.     I was ready to get started.

As always my funds are  limited and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time building my first prototype.   I wanted a design to get started with on the local trails with a relatively light load (25 to 50 lbs).   I used a sled that I had in my garage, and hardware that was lying around the house.   Even after purchasing a few small hardware items, I ended up spending less than $20.   I used my black diamond climbing harness to hook into.   With my first prototype completed I was ready to take it out and put it through the rigors of  gravel roads, short steep hills, tight single track trails, and even some bushwhacking off trail.   Basically my intentions were to beat it up to see what failed and where I could make improvements.  After covering 8 or 9 rigorous miles I was overall happy with the sled, but had a list of things I could improve on, such as tightening up the attachment point to my harness and adding some rubber hose or tape to silence the clacking of my poles at the cross point.   I’m ready to get it into some deeper snow for an overnighter or two.

Matt with his gear...Northern woods expedition

Matt with his gear…Northern woods expedition

I’m by no means an expert and have yet to get out for any long distances or extreme conditions with heavy loads, but from what I’ve learned so far here’s a list of important items to consider before building your first pulk:

1.  what are you using the pulk for (running or excersise, overnight or weekend trips, expeditions etc.)

2.  What is the terrain your exploring (flat tundra, frozen lakes,  hills, mountains, trails, backcountry etc.)

3.  Size of sled (length, width, depth)

4.  What type of pulling device (rope for flat terrain  or poles for hilly terrain to keep sled from running you over)

5.  What type of pole material (fiberglass, pvc, or aluminum)

6. What is the best Length of tow rope or poles ( I found 6′ poles to work best)

7. Attachment points to lash down gear (how many, what type etc. where to place them)

8.  What type of harness is best for towing (climbing harness, waist belt, backpack waist belt)

9.  Will fins or rails help guide the sled

10.  Do I need a cover

Besides talking with people that have experience using a pulk, I’ve listed some links that were great resources to me.    Skipulk.com offers a 30 page PDF download that covers several designs (from simple to more spendy durable options).  I used some of their recommendations found in the guide.    If you have some tips or advice on building, buying or using a ski pulk share it with a comment, every bit of information helps.

http://www.skipulk.com/images/stories/pdfs/pulkbook.pdf

http://www.skipulk.com/blog

http://alpineinstitute.blogspot.com/2008/01/expedition-sled-rigging.html

http://www.laughingdog.com/2008/01/building-backcountry-pulk.html

So far I’m having a blast trying something new for my winter adventures, what are you doing for YOUR winter adventures!!!

JJ

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Winter Adventures…Bring it on!!!!

As we say goodbye to the warm summer days and fall colors, it’s time to get ready for some winter fun!   It’s amazing how many people living in the Midwest say how much they hate what’s to come and feel they have to hunker down indoors till spring.   Not me, even though I love summer and sun and beach and everything that comes with it I’m starting to  feel  excitement for what’s to come in the months ahead.     With winter approaching, I’m beginning to plan for some epic winter adventures!!     It’s time to dust off my  winter gear including all the important base layers and clothing as well as snowshoes, skis, cold weather sleeping bags and sled.   Winter brings on so many opportunities to explore the same parks and woods I played in during summer, with a whole new experience.

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 I’ve lived most of my life in the midwest with the exception of a few years in California and then Guam.     I’ll admit that I loved the sun, sand and surf year-round for a while but I always longed for those winter adventures.   When I was a kid, I can remember spending all day outside in the winter months.     Winter meant snow forts,camping, snowshoeing,  sledding, ice skating and hockey on the local pond or flooded field and pretty much anything else that would keep me from being inside.   With school in session, there was never enough time to explore all there was to do in the winter.   I spent as much time as I could exploring my snowy surroundings.  Winters in Michigan open up the door to some of the best adventures!

If you haven’t spent a lot of time out-of-doors in the winter with the exception of shoveling the drive or dashing from the car into the grocery store, it can be a little intimidating to think about spending several hours or even a full day outside.    The first and most important thing to understand is how to dress.  Having the right clothing and gear when spending time outside in the winter months can make the difference whether you suffer or have a good time.    It’s sad to see people outside cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or on the sled hill either undedressed or overdressed in cotton base layers that hold moisture.   For little investment, you can dress to be comfortable even in the coldest temperatures.

Spending time outdoors in the winter, whether its running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or camping offers new experiences with fresh air, the absence of bugs and an abundance of wildlife you might not see in the warmer months.    The days are shorter but don’t let that stop you from putting on the headlamp and enjoying the woods or park at night.    If you don’t want to go alone grab a friend or find a group to join up with.    You’ll be surprised how many new friends you’ll meet.

This year don’t let old man winter keep you inside find YOUR adventure outdoors!!!

JJ

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