Snow Daze: Thru Hiking the PCT in 2017

A snowfield on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in May 2016.
May, 2016 | Photo by Robin Standish

It’s not necessarily news that it has been dumping snow this winter. Much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders everywhere, mountains across the country are up to their armpits. You can gloat all you want about sidling up to the all-you-can-eat powder gorge, but if you also happen to be planning on thru hiking the PCT this year, you might to want to change your tune.

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Essential Tarp Camping

Words & Photos by Cam Honan

The essence of going lighter in the woods is not so much about gear, as it is about the adoption of a simpler, less cluttered approach to one’s time backpacking.

Insofar as this philosophy relates to shelters, tarps fit the bill both tangibly and intangibly.

In the following article I’ll examine the benefits of tarp camping, as well as share some tips and techniques to minimize the perceived negatives. I’ll end the piece with an overview of environments in which the hiker is better off leaving the tarp at home, and going with a tent.

Flat Tarp & Southwest 2400 pack | Sangre de Cristo mountains, CO, 2016.
Flat Tarp & 2400 Southwest pack | Sangre de Cristo mountains, CO, 2016.

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From the AT to the PCT: Shifting Gear

(Spoiler Alert) Both trails require the essentials.

Word & Photos by Robin Standish

Robin Standish | PCT 2016

I finished the Appalachian Trail (AT) in mid December, 2015. Hoarfrost glazed the landscape, icicles lined the slick, frosty trail, and a damp, east coast chill seeped through ever layer I wore. It was time to be done, though it wouldn’t be for long. A few months later, when the feeling in my toes had returned, and my hiker hobble lessened, I headed for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I was confident in the hiking part, but was uncertain about how my gear setup would have to be altered.

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Gates of the Arctic Traverse

19 days and 400 Miles thru Alaska’s Brooks Range.

Words, Photos and Video by Luc Mehl


The Brooks Range has always intimidated me as a logistic challenge: expensive, remote, cold in the winter and buggy in the summer. But it is the largest swath of Alaska I haven’t seen, and with a lot of planning, we were able to do a long and remote trip within my budget. We had to have the route, logistics, and pace, dialed-in to pull off this ambitious trip. Our route evolved to be: fly to Anaktuvuk, float southwest on the John River, hike west to the Alatna River, float southeast on the Alatna to access the Arrigetch, cross the Arrigetch, float northwest on the Noatak River, hike southwest to the Ambler River, and float west to Ambler. 400 miles in 19 days.

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Double Duty: Lightening Your Backpacking Load with Multi-Purpose Gear

“If you can’t ride two horses at once you shouldn’t be in the circus.” – James Maxton (1885­-1946)

Text by Cam Honan


One of many ways in which a hiker can lower his or her pack weight is by using multi-purpose gear. A standard backpacking kit is literally full of such items.

Before heading out into the wilderness on your next big trip, try the following exercise. Clear the living room floor and spread out all of your stuff. Examine each and every article and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. What will happen if I don’t have it?
  3. Am I already packing something that would do the same job?
CamHonan Umbrella
Umbrellas provide protection from both the sun and rain. The wind? Not so much | Death Valley, Lowest to Highest Route, CA, 2014

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The Lite State of Mind: Click Checks in from the Pacific Crest Trail

Photos & text by Nicholas “Click” Reichard

SNAP! The sound of a baseball bat hitting my shins was a pain I will never forget. Except there was no baseball bat, I was a month into my Appalachian Trail thru hike and dealing with shin splints that made every step a nightmare. I remember it so well because it was the week of my 26th birthday, and my only wish was for the pain to go away. 

To set the story straight I know the problem was my pack weight, which was largely due to my camera gear. I was quite new to backpacking and surely wasn’t the type of guy to brag about my knowledge when it came to the great outdoors. I was determined to keep going and willing to do anything to help ease the pain I had put my body through, but was I ready to take the steps to become an UL hiker? 

Find out.

Bushcraft: Making A Heavy Adventure Sport Ultralight

Bushcrafters Love “Classic” (aka Heavy) Gear: Brian Trubshaw Wants To Change That

“Bushcraft is about thriving in the natural environment and the acquisition of the skills and knowledge to do so. Bushcraft skills include firecraft, tracking, hunting, fishing, shelter-building, the use of tools such as knives and axes, foraging, hand-carving wood, container construction from natural materials and rope and twine-making, among others.” --Wikipedia
“Bushcraft is about thriving in the natural environment and the acquisition of the skills and knowledge to do so. Bushcraft skills include firecraft, tracking, hunting, fishing, shelter-building, the use of tools such as knives and axes, foraging, hand-carving wood, container construction from natural materials and rope and twine-making, among others.” –Wikipedia

Text and photos by Brian Trubshaw

I started my outdoor life with Bushcraft. A naturalist at heart, I don’t just enjoy being in nature; I believe in being one with nature. Bushcraft is the art of being able to spend time outdoors with very few items because you have a better understanding of the natural world. In other words, you have excellent “wilderness skills.” Englishman Ray Mears popularized the term “Bushcraft” here in the United Kingdom in his TV show, “Wild Tracks.” His show brought his survival research across the world to the big screen and left a lasting impression on my seven-year-old self.

Like Mears, when I walk in my woodlands, I don’t just see trees and plants, I see food I can eat and resources that I can use to do tasks. For example I very rarely carry tent stakes with me, as I know that I can just use branches with a carved point on the end. However, I also have a set of tent takes I have carved out of Hazel straights for when I’m in mossy areas. Wood work, fire lighting, shelter building—with the right knowledge the possibilities are endless.

Learn more about ultralight bushcraft.

New Zealand: How to Backpack “Downunder”

Most people don’t know New Zealand for its backpacking. Native New Zealander Greig Caigou explains how to make the most out of your time visiting.

Text & Photos by Greig Caigou

Far flung from Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s home in Maine, my Southwest 3400 pack travelled via CB postage (cabin baggage) to the land ‘Downunder’, to the bottom of the world . . . to New Zealand!

I’m a NZ’er by birth – 60 years young, and an outdoor educator by profession and a wilderness hunter by passion.

The author climbs above the Te Araroa trail.
The author climbs above the Te Araroa trail.

Named after our iconic native bird, we ‘Kiwis’ (New Zealanders) are an adventurous lot, with many like myself having had a rural or ‘outdoorsy’ upbringing. As such, we’ve prided ourselves on a rugged lifestyle birthed by pioneering forefathers who just 175 years ago travelled tenaciously half-way round the globe to settle amongst the impressive and varied landscapes of these islands at 41 degrees South.

That not-so-old legacy of past pioneers meant I grew up with a bold spirit, always keen for expeditions into the wild unknown, well beyond the back fence. In addition it meant I was raised on country fare . . . home grown vegetables matched with wild meats hunted from the local hills, and resided in a generous community where such produce could occasionally be exchanged for a fat mutton (sheepmeat) or some homebrew with a kick!

My new pack has been an integral part of my recent adventures, helping me stay ‘ultralight’ during my work and in my Kiwi-style hunting. Maintaining that simpler and stripped down approach resonates better with a wild experience for me, in touch with the rhythms of nature, but which has been somewhat counter–culture for many who take on the rigors of traversing the backcountry of New Zealand.

There are thousands of kilometers of formed trails here, many more established ‘routes’ and perhaps unquestionably the best network of public accommodation ‘trampers’ huts in the world. Let’s say you are planning on heading to this country with your very own Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack and hoping to walk one of our Great Walks or the ‘Long Pathway’ – Te Araroa (TA).

So what are some tips for the trail and how could you add some extra pizzaz and design your adventure for something differently wild and uniquely ‘Kiwi’?

Keep reading to learn more.

Bethany Hughes: Thru Hiking 20,000 Miles For a Cause

Ambassador Bethany Hughes Raises Awareness for Women’s Issues on major America-to-America Thru Hike

Bethany Hughes - Her Odyssey

When the rainy/winter season came, the two-woman hiking team of Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Bethany Hughes (aka “Fidgit”) and Lauren Reed (aka “Neon”) completed the first stretch of a 20,000-mile hike from the tip of South America to the top of Alaska. They finished the hiking season in Bariloche, Argentina after walking an estimated 1553 miles from November 23, 2015 to April 19, 2016, covering 13 degrees of latitude since starting in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Bethany "Fidgit" Hughes (Left) & Lauren "Neon" Reed (Right)
Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes (Left) & Lauren “Neon” Reed (Right)

“Taking a break will give us a chance to structure the next leg of our journey, which will run longer as we should, by next winter, be far enough north to hike through the winter season,” Hughes says. “Plus, it means I can put more time and effort into writing.”

As they hike, the duo has documented their journey on their blog, www.her-odyssey.org, and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/her-odyssey.

“We are particularly interested in highlighting the abilities and accomplishments of women we meet by featuring their stories,” Hughes explained. As well, she stated, with domestic violence recently becoming a more prominent topic of conversation in South America, their trek offers the opportunity for fostering discussion.

“Taboos are being broken just by having these conversations, especially with an outsider,” Hughes added.

Hughes began planning this trek, dubbed “Her Odyssey,” five years ago after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and subsequently learning that it formed part of the longest contiguous chain of mountains in the world. Reed, a “Triple Crowner,” is accompanying her on the South American portion of the journey.

Learn more about Bethany Hughes.EDIT-P1010240

2016 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

Hyperlite Mountain Gear is proud to be an unofficial sponsor of the unofficial Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.

Words by Luc Mehl
22 competitors | 115 miles of Alaskan Wilderness | Photo: Luc Mehl

The Mountain Wilderness Classic is Alaska’s premier wilderness challenge, a grassroots event where participants push to their exertion and exhaustion limits. Ultralight is the name of the game, so it is no surprise that the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter is the pack of choice.

The 2016 course started at Galbraith Lake and ended in Wiseman, completing a north-south traverse of the Brooks Range, Alaska’s northernmost mountain range. The course was short by Classic standards, a minimum of 110 miles, half of which was floatable. This was a welcome change from the 2015 300-mile route in the Alaska Range, which was only finished by four of the thirty participants.

The short Brooks Range course and 24-hour daylight allowed participants to cut even more gear from their packs, with many participants expecting to go without sleep. Sleeping bags, shelter systems, and extra clothing were all left behind. One participant even opted to leave his packraft behind, starting with a 13 pound pack (this ended up being a bad decision).
Read more about the Classic, and check out a sweet video.

HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE: Q&A WITH PHILIP WERNER

Philip Werner never wanted to be a thru hiker. While he respects thru hikers and their achievement(s), he prefers to hike his own hike, which, to him, means hiking and backpacking both on and off-trail on journeys of his own design. People often equate hiking and backpacking with thru hiking. However, the vast majority of hikers and backpackers don’t hike on National Scenic Trails. Werner estimates there are probably 10,000 or more non-thru hikers for every Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker. We recently chatted with this influential hiking blogger and owner of SectionHiker.com about what “hike your own hike” means to him.

Hiking new routes, to new places and in new ways. My favorite mountain is the mountain I have yet to climb. To find new routes, I look at maps a lot and work off trail lists and peak lists. For off-trail routes, I mainly use caltopo.com to plan my bushwhacks and a map and compass to hike the routes. I really enjoy planning unique trips to places I want to visit. I can’t think of a time where I’ve used someone else’s route on a trip on purpose.

What are some of the “new ways” you have hiked over the years?
Winter backpacking, mountaineering, bushwhacking, peak bagging, waterfall climbing, day hiking and nature viewing. There are lots of styles of hiking and combinations of these styles.

Plus, I’m constantly learning new backcountry skills and folding them into my adventures, adding endless new facets to my experiences. I’ve incorporated backcountry (cross-country) skiing, Tenkara fly fishing and
 traditional Flycasting with a reel into my adventures lately. This summer, for example, I’m doing a series of backpacking trips to remote alpine ponds in New Hampshire and Maine to fly fish from a packraft. That’s just one example of a trip that includes numerous activities—backpacking, fly fishing and packrafting. And this coming winter I plan to combine winter backpacking and backcountry skiing on some trips into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

Read the rest of the article here.

Inclement Weather Hiking: Ten Tips to Stay Comfortable & Alive

After 57,000 Miles & 56 Countries, Cam “Swami” Honan Knows Inclement Weather.

Tasmania
Arthur Range (photo courtesy of Viktor Posnov)

Photos & Text by Cam Honan

Tasmania’s Arthur Range is arguably Australia’s most spectacular mountain chain. Unfortunately for hikers there’s a catch. It’s called the “weather.”

Backcountry trips in the Arthurs are a meteorological roll of the dice at any time of year. When it’s fine you’ll be treated to sublime views of jagged quartzite peaks, hanging valleys and glacier carved lakes. If a big storm front rumbles through, all you will likely see is horizontal rain, thick fog and the brim of your baseball cap pulled all the way down over your forehead.

When coupled with the fact that much of the hiking is done on open rocky ridges exposed to the full brunt of the Roaring Forties (i.e. gale-force westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between between 40° and 50° latitude), the Arthurs is not a place you want to be without good backcountry skills and the right equipment.

If faced with these sort of extreme conditions, a hiker’s #1 priority should always be safety. Preset itineraries and/or mileage objectives should run a very distant second.

Sarek National Park | Lapland, Sweden | With its long valleys, winding rivers, glaciers and distinctive peaks, navigation in Sarek is not overly difficult when conditions are fine. However, when the mother of all storms rolls through, as it did during the last 1.5 days of my hike in 2009, much of your time may well be spent hiking through driving rain and fog.

In such circumstances, I try to focus on core temperature management and sound choices. In regards to the latter, I find it helpful to put myself in the role of “objective observer” rather than “subjective participant.” In other words, take emotion out of the decision making process. Admittedly, this is sometimes easier in theory than it is in practice, however, in my opinion it represents one of the most important, as well as most overlooked, wilderness skills that a hiker can develop.
Click here to learn about Cam Honan’s tips.

Adventure Adaptability: The Key To Succeeding on Your Thru Hikes

Adaptability is one of the most important skills for a hiker to learn. Find out how it affects all stages of your hike.

Bethany Hughes

By Bethany Hughes

The only thing you have control over is yourself, your perspective and your actions. The elements couldn’t care less about your first ascent, your time record or your worthy cause. In thru hiking, as with all adventure sports, adaptability can determine whether you live or die. It means backtracking when you fought hard to get there. It means swallowing your ego.

Adventure athletes are a bull headed breed. We are out there to whet our mettle, pushing forward into new territory, testing limits–this all takes determination. Yet sometimes we have to turn around 300 feet from the summit. It means not dropping in if the snowpack is weak. It means not shooting that sick Go Pro video. Because before all else, Mother Nature demands humility.

Have I made the point about baseline safety, yet? Okay, now let’s talk about how adaptability comes into play at every stage, from planning to after-action review.
Find out more about adaptability

Escalante River, Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument

Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument
Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument.

Photo & text by Alan Dixon

The vast Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument is arguably best true wilderness in the lower 48. The beauty of the desert canyons and the mesas in the Monument is breathtaking—challenging the the best the planet has to offer. It is the perfect setting for a bona fide adventure filled with jaw dropping beauty.
 
The Escalante was the last river of its size to be discovered in the lower 48 states and the area was the last to be mapped in the lower 48. In the vast expanse below Highway 12 there are no trails (actually there is only one trail in the entire park). Many of the side canyons are so remote and inaccessible that only a few people every 10 years reaches them, if ever. Only a few canyons see regular use.
 
A light tarp is usually all you need in the desert. Note: While I could have camped higher up on the canyon wall on a slickrock shelf with better views… I discreetly camped out of sight, away from the trail and in the cottonwood trees as a favor to others sharing the canyon with me. It is also a warmer and more protected location than exposed on the slickrock. And this is far from a bad view!
Alan Dixon runs the popular website, AdventureAlan.com. He regularly uses our 3400 Southwest Pack. Stay tuned for Dixon’s future blog posts, including the second in our series of, “Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Going Ultralight” blog posts, in which he discusses good camping skills, utilizing gear that’s appropriate for the conditions, and being prepared in terms of weather and calories needed. “I’ll wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear,” Dixon says.

Hike the CDT: 5 Key Things You Need to Know

The CDT: Stay Hydrated, Oriented, Warm & Dry on the Hardest, Most Remote of the “Big Three” Thru Hikes

Some of the scenery on the CDT unparalleled.
Some of the scenery on the is CDT unparalleled. Photo by Jason Granite #WarriorTraverse

The Triple Crown of hiking is an almost mythical endeavor. These three trails take thru hikers and backpackers to some of the most scenic, remote and illustrious landscapes of the United States. The Appalachian Trail is full of history, tradition and lore. The moss-covered New England rocks and gnarly roots are emblematic of the long and deep culture of this famous footpath. And the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way through desert, climbs its way to the High Sierra and John Muir’s fabled “Range of Light” and onward to the volcanic peaks of the Pacific Northwest. It is a land of biodiversity and enchantment. And then there’s the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT).
Read on.

Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hike: Nine Tips For Success

One-Quarter of Aspiring Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hikes Succeed:
These Tips Can Make The Difference

What are you waiting for? Get out there and explore!
What are you waiting for? Get out there and explore! All photos by Trail Ambassador Robin Standish.

The Westernmost trail in the infamous “Triple Crown” of hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail stretches from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border and runs through California, Oregon and Washington. Despite being the star of the hit book/film, “Wild,” it’s not nearly as well known as the famous Appalachian Trail (AT). A very difficult thru hike for even an experienced adventurers, it’s also very different. According to the 2013 statistics from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, out of the 1041 people that attempted the PCT, only 273 of them reported completing the trail (26% completion). Meanwhile on the Appalachian Trail 2586 people attempted a thru hike in 2013, and 875 completions were recorded (34% completion). So hikers taking on a thru hike of the PCT should be prepared for any eventuality. We talked to Trail Information Specialist Jack Haskel of the PCTA about nine things you can do to succeed on your Pacific Crest Trail thru hike. Plus, we asked him a few additional questions about trail life.
Find out how to thru hike the PCT.

The Adventurous Way: Remote Terrain & Challenges of the Camino de Santiago

Remote Camino de Santiago Routes To Challenge the Most Experienced Hikers

WEB-EDIT-alto-del-perdon-frenchway-caminowaysA network of ancient pilgrim routes, The Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) leads from different parts of Europe into Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, believed to be the resting place of Saint James the Apostle. Between 200,000 to 300,000 people from all over the world follow the famous signs of the yellow arrow and the scallop shell on the Camino routes each year. Camino pilgrims who hike at least 62 miles can get their “passport” stamped and then apply for the pilgrim certificate, the Compostela, once they arrive to Santiago. People hike for religious or spiritual reasons, to discover new places and to meet new people. Others hike because they want to experience the remoteness and difficulty of some of Europe’s most ancient trails. Though many people go on the Camino’s various trails for the cultural experience or for religious reasons, long-distance hikers can also have a true outdoor adventure. Special thanks to the folks at CaminoWays for helping us answer these questions.
Read on to learn more.

The Hardest Thru Hike in the World

If not the most difficult, a hike below the rim of the Grand comes close.

Learn about Ambassador Rich Rudow’s thru hike & Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s planning & prep for his 2 section hikes.

The UltaMid in Tuweep Valley as a snow and ice storm rolls in during Rich Rudow's thru hike below the rim of the Grand.
The UltaMid in Tuweep Valley as a snow and ice storm rolls in during Rich Rudow’s thru hike below the rim of the Grand.

More than four thousand people have summited Mt. Everest. Two hundred and fifty people have walked 7,900 miles to complete the triple crown of hiking (walking the PCT, CDT and AT). Twenty-four astronauts left the Earth’s orbit for the moon. But only 12 people have ever walked the length of Grand Canyon in one continuous push and just a handful have done it in sections. Why? There are no towns for resupply, no base camps for logistics support, and in fact, no trails for the vast majority of the 700 miles. Traversing Grand Canyon is like walking a complex three-dimensional maze with delicate routes that include hundreds of thousands of vertical feet of scrambling and climbing up to low class five terrain. There isn’t a guidebook, and beta is sparse. To most people, this thru hike seems impossible. But for people like Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow, the foremost expert on slot canyons in the Grand, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre, and a handful of others it’s not only possible, but one of life’s most exciting challenges. Rudow finished his thru hike late in 2015; St. Pierre has achieved the first two sections of the hike, and plans on finishing the entire journey within the next few years.
Read more.

Take a Hike: National Trails Day

Get Out & Hike!

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

On June 4th we’re celebrating National Trails Day! Occurring the first Saturday of June, this American Hiking Society-sponsored day celebrates America’s magnificent Trail System. According to AHS: “The event evolved during the late ‘80s and ‘90s from a popular ethos among trail advocates, outdoor industry leaders and political bodies who wanted to unlock the vast potential in America’s National Trails System, transforming it from a collection of local paths into a true network of interconnected trails and vested trail organizations. This collective mindset hatched the idea of a singular day where the greater trail community could band together behind to show their pride and dedication to the National Trails System.”

At Hyperlite Mountain Gear we are committed to getting outdoor adventurers onto America’s trails because that’s where they rise to their most optimal selves. In celebration of these paths through the woods, mountains and deserts, we recently invested in two of the most important non-profit trail organizations–the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). As well, we continually bring you new information on trails around the world, hiked by our Chief Adventure Officer Mike St. Pierre and our ambassadors. And we are committed to bringing you the ultralight hiking packs and lightweight shelters you need to use to hike those trails.

Stay tuned, we’ve got some great articles being published in the upcoming months about the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the International Appalachian Trail and more.

On this special day, we’d like to encourage you to do a couple things:

  1. Become a member of the AHS, the PCTA, the CDTC, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), or any number of other trail non-profit organizations;
  2. Check out a list of great articles on our blog that highlight trails around the world (see below);
  3. Let us know if there are any trails you’d like us to write about;
  4. Get out hiking!

Great blog posts about various trails:

Maps & an Ethical Compass For Grand Canyon Travel

A Master Cartographer Digs Deep to Find the Navigational Skills Needed to Succeed on One of the World’s Most Extreme Thru Hikes

Grand Canyon Backpacking
Which way do we go?

By Clay Wadman, photos by Mike St. Pierre & Clay Wadman

Once I’m oriented, a map is nothing but a close-up of that mental image I form before every trip, an overview if you will, from space. I marvel at how far these maps have come since Major John Wesley Powell first came to the Southwest with pencil and paper and tried to make sense of these great cirques and valleys. To glance up at the cliffs and huge amphitheaters of the Grand Canyon’s Red Wall and then back down to the impossibly high tech orthographic projection of these features I hold in my hand, they are perfect and these images help me see their scale and shape even more clearly.

In this blog post, I recreated notes from the journal I took on the below-the-rim section hike of the Grand that Mike St. Pierre and I embarked on, March 2016. The section we did is part of what Rich Rudow calls, “The Grandest Walk“—a thru hike that traverses the Canyon below the rim. Mike plans on doing it in three sections; he invited me for the second leg of his journey. Though a mapmaker with decades of experience, I dug deep on this adventure. It was one of the most difficult of my life. Strong navigation skills and tools were integral to our success.

Maps, mids and camping deep in the Grand Canyon backcountry.
Maps, mids and camping deep in the Grand Canyon backcountry.

On day four of our trip we awake to grey—grey skies, grey fatigue, a grey attitude like fog from last night’s sand storm and bad water. Everything above the 6,000-foot level is washed in fresh snow, including the rim above us. In the Crystal Creek wash, clear alkaline-poison water laps at our boots. I want to see something good in everything and think to myself: “At least in the weeks to come, the potholes will be full on the Esplanade…” From the streambed, our escape route out of the Crystal is unobvious. We just descended from Shiva Saddle, one of the highest saddles on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and dropped all the way to the river. Now we need to climb back up through five or six of the major geologic groups in the canyon, this time to the Sagittarius Saddle.

If you’ve ever seen a photo looking down on the Grand Canyon from outer space you can see the dark, almost black looking boreal forests that cap one of the biggest “oxbow” bends on the planet. This immense arch stretches from Nankoweep at River Mile 53 all the way to Tapeats at River Mile 137. In the scorching desert of the American Southwest, this part of the geologic up-thrust that created the canyon itself, has become a forest of huge conifers and moisture, rising to an elevation of 10,000’.

I hold onto this mental image as I study the maps of the inner canyon. Not just a random sweep of bends and corners, the river has purpose and direction; from its genesis to its evolution, modern topographical science magically reveals each of its secrets. Read the rest of Wadman’s story.

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