Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Grand Canyon Adventures

So beautiful!
Having grown up about 75 miles away from Yellowstone National Park, I have a pretty special place in my heart for the amazing National Park system here in the U.S. I have been to many of the National Parks west of the Mississippi, but for some reason, a trip to the Grand Canyon has never made it onto my “To Do” list, even though I’ve always been enamoured with the photos that I have seen of it.

I have been staying with my dad in Las Vegas for the last several weeks, so it only made sense to finally plan a trip to the amazing cayon since it is only about a 4-hour drive from Sin City. Unfortunately, most adventures in the outdoors actually require having some amount of appropriate gear for the particular adventure. Given that almost everything that I own (including my camping gear, skiing gear, and climbing gear) is still in Scotland, planning a backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon seemed a little bit ambitious. As luck would have it, however, I happened upon a phenomenal Garage Sale at REI. They were selling off all of their rental program gear because people didn’t really utilize the program. Fortunately for me, I was able to come by a new sleeping bag, nearly new tent, and a new backpack for the grand total of $120...79% savings! Suddenly I found myself fully equipped to go on a backpacking adventure!

New gear all ready to head down to the river
December/January can be an unpredictable time to visit the high desert of Arizona. As it turns out, Mother Nature decided to ring in the New Year with a big winter snowstorm. The rim of the Canyon received 9-12”, and they even got snow at Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor...not something that happens very often. I decided to hold out for a few days to let the snow melt a bit and to let the temperatures warm up a little bit, too. Although my $28 got a pretty nice REI sleeping bag, it is still only rated to 25ยบ!
Awfully chilly when I woke up on top of the South Rim
I arrived at the Backcountry Office at 8:00 sharp to obtain the necessary permit to camp in the canyon and then set off with the other backpackers braving the icy winter conditions on the trail. I decided to hike in on the South Kaibab trail that gives phenomenal views of the canyon to the east. It was a beautifully sunny day, and I really enjoyed the steep hike into Bright Angel Campground/Phantom Ranch.
A wee bit snowy and icy on the trail
On the shuttle bus to the trailhead, I happened to meet three guys from Austin, TX: Bob, Bear, and Bob’s Brother-In-Law (BBIL). As they continued telling their stories, I realized that these guys were quite the characters! Bob (61) had previously spent at least 50 days in the canyon and was clearly the trip leader and canyon expert, and this was BBIL’s (65) first visit. Bear (71) was returning for his 3rd time to the canyon...since the time that he had a heart attack part of the way up the North Rim Trail and still walked out! I set off before they did and didn’t see them again until the bottom.

Added bound of getting to see the rim blanketed in snow on
the south side...
...and sunshine and no snow on the north side!
I really enjoyed all of the interesting geology and different rock formations that are so prevalent throughout the canyon. Additionally, it felt like an added bonus to have so much snow blanketing the beautiful red sandstone!

My most reliable adventuring partner
This tree was 1 of my favorite parts of the whole trip!
1st view of the mighty Colorado River
I made good time getting to the Bright Angel Campground, got my tent all setup, and then had time to go for a hike along the trails on the north side of the river. It’s amazing how easy 6 miles feels without the added weight of a 45-pound backpack! After dinner, I joined most of the other backpackers at the Canteen for a well-deserved beer. I managed to catch up with Bob and Bear, and we had a really nice time sharing adventuring and travel stories. I was right, they were definitely characters and had great stories from nearly 50 years of traveling and adventuring together!

Home is where you set it up
Bear, BBIL, Bob
The morning mule train bringing in the steaks for the
fancy folks' dinner
Unfortunately, I only had time to spend one night in the canyon so I headed back up the next morning. I wanted to make the most of my time, so I planned an ambling route to get back to the South Rim. From the campground, I headed out on the River Trail and connected up with the bottom section of the South Kaibab trail.

Where you go to get away from the people
From there, I traversed across the midway plateau on the much less traveled Tonto trail that connects the South Kaibab trail with Bright Angel. I really enjoyed this section of the hike, as I didn’t see a single other person! As it turns out, I quite enjoy experiencing nature without anyone else around! The Tonto trail joins back up with the Bright Angel Trail near the Indian Garden campground. From here, it was about 4.5 miles back to the Canyon Village on fully snow packed trails.

Slightly obsessed with doing handstands!
I was mildly amused by the range of characters that I ran into once I got fairly close to the top. Several people were “amazed” that I could have hiked “all the way” from the canyon bottom with such a big pack in just one day. Others had grand allusions of hiking all the way to the river and back that afternoon in their leather jackets, Toms trainers, and inexplicably absent water bottles! I had to highly discourage them from their plans, suggesting that the round trip might actually take them upwards of about 12-14 hours! Since almost everyone I know is very adventure savvy, I often forget that a lot of people have no idea what hiking 9.5 miles down and 9.5 miles back with about a mile of elevation loss/gain actually entails!

I keep seeing heart shaped cacti everywhere I look...
maybe it's a sign! :)

I made it back to the rim and headed to one of the overlooks in plenty of time to truly enjoy the sunset and the amazing colors that the Canyon has to offer once the sun starts going down. It was truly incredible to see how the colors changed as the light from the sunset started doing its desert dance!!
Sunset beauty to the east
Sunset beauty to the west...almost looks like the Serengeti
(at least how I imagine it looks!)

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Blogging Restart Catalyst

Ez showing me around the Saguaro lined trails of Tucson
I spent New Year's in Tucson with the Queen of Adventure Blogging and her boyfriend, the Master of Adventure Mapping and Tracking. While I'm not one to make New Year's "resolutions," she did inspire me to start blogging again.

You might think that spending a year on the "funemployment" plan would give someone ample time to blog about life's adventures; however, that didn't seem to be the case for me for the last 12 months. I still don't have a job, but I've decided to make time for getting back to my blog. I used to really enjoy it, so...Grand Canyon Adventuring pictures and a few words coming very soon. :)

Friday, October 04, 2013

DIY Weekend Fun

The on offer selection of greenery
As an adult, I have moved 17 times. I have also gotten the house I own ready to go on the sale market. For the most part, I've done all of these things all by myself. I've had a few helpers for a few things here and there, but usually only when I reached desperate times! I know that I have a problem asking people for help, and I think subconsciously I try to make up for this inability to ask for help my making sure my friends don't have to, when they need help...especially the ones who suffer from the same inability to ask for help affliction that I suffer from! :)

Tip run!
My friend Louy is getting her flat ready to put on the market, as she's ready for an upgrade. She's done a tremendous amount of work on her flat, and she only had a few big projects left to finish before the looming advert photo shoot deadline. Even though she wasn't asking for help, I knew the signs of the inability to ask for help affliction, so I offered to spend the weekend helping her with whatever DIY projects she still had left!

Falling apart and unbeknownst to me...full of roots!
A "small" portion of the roots!
Ahhh, that's better!
Although most people I know would have rather been on their bikes or doing something else for themselves, I actually rather enjoy helping people I care about, even if it means giving up a beautiful autumn weekend that could have been filled with ripping MTB trails! In the end, I spent most of the weekend outside enjoying the sunshine and playing in the dirt anyway...just a different sort of playing in the dirt! :)

We did a ton of work over the weekend, and in the end, the flat was looking in top shape for the photos! It goes on the market fingers crossed for her that it sells quickly and at a good price! :)

The Before and After...tidy!


Monday, September 02, 2013

Food, Friends, and Fun

Dripping with Britishness
My friend Ailsa is currently finishing up her PhD thesis. In a bid to make the most of one of her last weekend's as a student, she decided to host a Black Tie Dinner/slumber party weekend at her parent's picturesque English cottage in northern English countryside. 9 of us cosily bunked up in her parent's cottage for a weekend of laughter, hill walking, bramble picking, food enjoyment, tea and wine drinking, and general good banter. The weather treated us well all weekend, and we all had a fantastic English Country Escape from the city!

Beautiful butterflies joining us on our walk
Mmmmmm, fresh brambles

The crew on top of the fell
Bramble and fresh picked apple tarts 
Pimms o'clock came and went

Potent gin and bramble sorbet

The hostest with the mostest

James demonstrating that he's okay with his feminine side

Only a fraction of the haul

Pretending we're all very civilized
My favourite part of the whole evening!

Such a nice place to spend the weekend!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jack of All Trades...

Me and Jody..smiles all around
Before I decided to finally put my heart and soul into professionally racing mountain bikes, I had a lot of hobbies. I was pretty good at all of them, but I certainly wasn't great at any of them. That was one of the reasons that I had such a hard time actually committing to racing bikes...the fear of failing at something when you actually try to be great at it. After a National Championship title, countless x-rays, cat scans, and MRIs, I decided that I had accomplished all that I wanted to racing 4x and I made the decision to retire from professional racing. As a result, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time to do all of the things that I used to do!

In the past 8 months, I have revisited my love of rock climbing! There is a great climbing facility here in Glasgow, and the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA), aka Ratho, is only about 45 minutes away. It's apparently the largest indoor climbing facility in the world. Anywho...there isn't a lot of sport climbing in the UK, as most people are die hard, it must not be bolted, trad climbing aficionados, but there are a few sport climbing crags here and there. Last weekend, I got the chance to go check one out that's about 1:45 from Boulder, just north of Dundee.

Instruction for the newbies
The place is called Kirrie Hill, and it's just outside of the village of Kirriemuir. It's a pretty new location having most of the 1st ascents logged within the last 5-6 years. It's not tall, nor is it huge, but there are about 75 climbs with many in my climbing range. My friend Jody has been climbing a lot since she moved here in January, so she showed me where to go by climbing first all day, but I was pretty pleased that I led 7 climbs just below the hardest grade I've ever led...oh so many years ago when I was climbing a lot at Reimer's Fishing Ranch in Austin, TX! The sun came out several times, but it only rained for 30 seconds, so it was a 100% successful 1st day on Scottish rock!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tiree (google it) Music Festival

Magical Isle of Tiree
Sunshine. Swimming in the sea. Yoga on the beach. SUPing. Scottish folk music. Kite flying. Beer drinking. Hill scrambling. Laughing and giggling. Sunshine. Whisky. Bonfires on the beach. Pipes, fiddles, and accordions. Sunsets. Sunrises. Jelly fish. Crepes. Ceilidhs. Singing and dancing. Ferry rides. Great weekend with a great friend!

Our island fun taxi
Last weekend, I joined my friend Ailsa on a wee adventure to the tiny island of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides. I saw a very cool program on the amazing islands that are off of the Scottish coast a few years ago, and ever since then I've wanted to explore as many as I can. To be fair, I haven't been doing so hot as I've only made it to Lewis, Harris, and now Tiree, but each and every one has been well worth the journey to get to it!

There is a lot of wine in those heavy bags!

Hello,  Mother Nature? Yes? Could we order
up a weekend full of beautiful sunshine?
Stunning girl loving up the delivered sunshine!
Something not many people know is that many of these islands have some of the prettiest, white sand, turquoise blue water beaches in the world! Albeit, they are often too cold to go swimming in, but they are very beautiful. This weekend, however, we were lucky enough to have hot (Scottish hot, that is) temperatures which made it tolerable to be in the water for nearly an hour without a wetsuit!

Seriously?? Wow!
The reason for our journey to Tiree was the Tiree Music Festival, which is a small (~1500 people) Scottish folk music festival. There were a few bands on the line up that I was very excited to see and then a few others that I'm now in love with!

Sheer comedy watching this ensue
Being a small festival on a remote secluded island meant that several of the bands actually played 2x, which was a huge bonus for getting to hear more of the music from the ones that were really good!

Pimms o'clock!
Good acting!
Any weekend that involves kite flying is a good one!

Aside from listening to amazing music in the beautiful sunshine, we also managed to do some "hill" walking (highest point on the island is 141m) and scrambling, as we decided to bushwhack our way around the bottom tip of the island.

Life is good
The map showed it to be quite "craggy", and we thought, how bad could it be? Well, the craggy rocks turned out to be cliffs in some places and rocks all the way to the sea in other places, so it was a bit slow going, for sure.

Way heavier than it looks!
Beautifully "sculpted" rock gardens
I just wanted to do yoga all weekend...
some places just inspire the yogi within!
We often had to call upon our well honed rock climbing skills to get us out of a few precarious situations, but in the end it was totally worth it, as we didn't see anyone else all afternoon, and we got to experience these amazing stone beaches that looked like they had been artfully manicured by someone!

Time to SUP!
Wheeeeeee! So much fun! :)

Additionally, Wild Diamond, one of the outdoor adventure activity providing companies on the island were offering introduction SUP (stand up paddle boarding) lessons for a tenner on the beach that was 5 minutes away from the campsite. It was so much fun that we had to go back for a second go on the Sunday as well! The conditions weren't easy, but I did manage to catch a few waves all the way back to shore. Success!

Love these little guys and their fringes
All in all, we had a fantastic weekend full of sunshine, good music, and lots of laughs and giggles. If you ever find yourself in Scotland, definitely add the Hebridean Islands to your to do won't be sorry!

Kite flying AND yoga...LOVE!
Goodbye Tiree...until next time!