The week before Labor Day is typically pretty quiet in New York, and with nothing much on the calendar, I couldn’t bear sitting around idle, so I threw together a quick jaunt up to the Adirondacks with the goal of making progress on the 46 high peaks (as a result of the trip, I’m now at 24/46). Here are some quick notes…
A year or so ago casting around for new challenges, I google’d “barefoot Grand Canyon,” and that’s when I discovered Thea Gavin, a free-spirited writer and self-styled “suburbanite chronically injured running grandma,” who’d hiked from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other, descending roughly 5,000 feet and them climbing back out, for a total journey of 24 miles, all without shoes. When conventional boot-clad hikers in the Canyon asked why, she responded, “It’s fun.”
This spring I began planning a western trip to the Grand Canyon and other places I’d never been. Business matters interceded, the trip was delayed, put on hold, and then finally thrown together at the last minute with destinations to be figured out on the fly.
Now it’s late morning, August 7, and I’m pulling in to Kanab, Utah, which I’ve designated as my final staging point prior to entering Grand Canyon National Park. Priority of work: lunch, laundry, gas, obtain a wi-fi connection to download maps and review the route, and hopefully find an espresso. The strategy is to enter the park after dark (avoiding the crowds and the heat), attempt a barefoot descent of the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River, and then turn around and climb back up.
My four-week southwestern pilgrimage is drawing to a close, and what stands between my current location in Mammoth Lakes and the San Francisco airport is. . . . Yosemite National Park, John Muir’s temple of the wilderness, in which “every rock seems to glow with life.”
This is sacred ground, with 4.3 million visitors last year. This year, having just reopened after a month’s closure due to forest fires, no doubt the park will be thronged. What’s needed is a thoughtful plan: an infiltration route from a remote trailhead to a suitable vantage point overlooking the valley, sparing me the crowds below. A chance encounter with a friendly trail volunteer supplies me with exactly this: a 16-mile route from Porcupine Creek Trailhead to North Dome and the top of Yosemite Falls.
Working on the route from Zion to Grand Canyon, a little dot pops up on the map: Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Who doesn’t like scrambling around in sand? How could you not want to check out dunes with such a distinctive color?
My objectives: explore the desert, get acclimated to the heat, build back some running stamina without aggravating injuries, continue to condition the feet. The goal isn’t to overdo things, but still to do a lot, and this requires an aggressive tempo of operations: breakfast, run or hike, dinner, plan the next day’s activities, bed — repeat. The planning is time-consuming: there’s an overwhelming volume of information on the internet, and not all of equal quality. My best source turns out to be the motel clerk who’s been exploring this area with his wife for the last ten years.
En route from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon National Park, stopping at the visitor center in Escalante, Utah (population 797) to meet a friend who by coincidence is traveling in the reverse direction, wondering how to spend the afternoon, and the Ranger here has a suggestion: hike in along the Escalante River. It’s not one of the trails marketed to the tourist crowd, in fact it’s not an official trail at all, not shown on maps, and remarkably not even listed in the popular apps. Just be mindful of flash flooding.
My friend arrives, we spend a hour catching up, compare notes on the best hikes in the area, and then resume our separate journeys. I stare at the map on the wall and ponder a place called Death Hollow, whose creek flows into the Escalante about seven miles in.
I find two maps to download on my phone and a vintage topographic map to buy (it’s paper and needs to be folded to fit in a pocket — how quaint!), fill out the necessary back-country permit, lay out gear and pack it up, charge my phone while eating a hamburger and baked beans, and head off to the trailhead, one eye on the clouds massing in the west….
What caught my attention after the four-hour drive from Salt Lake City, once I’d reached Moab and was motoring along Route 191 through the center of town, passing all those restaurants, curiosity shops, and tour operators, was the line of mountains rising in the southeast.
The next morning saw me hiking out to the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park (isn’t this every tourist’s first stop?) — when here were those mountains again, with a mushroom cloud bubbling above, as if the peaks had pierced the winds and cast the atmosphere into turbulence.
And then a day later, from the high point in Hidden Valley, here they were once again, gazing at me with curiosity across thirty-five miles of hot sand and haze.