Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grand Canyon

[by Shelley]
“Getting to the bottom is optional. Getting to the top is mandatory.”

The exact opposite of this is true for climbing mountains but it's certainly a suitable saying for hiking down into the Grand Canyon. We caught the shuttle from the Backcountry Information Center at 9 a.m. and were at the start of the South Kaibab trail and on our way about 20 minutes later.

The South Kaibab follows a ridgeline down, one of the few trails that does not go down one of the side canyons. Therefore, you get an excellent and wide open view the whole way down. Although it didn’t feel like we were “meandering” we certainly stopped a lot to take photos and enjoy the view. Near the top it was cool and windy but got much nicer the lower in altitude we went. The trail was wide, well maintained and very gradual descent of 4800 ft over 12 km. Much easier on the knees than I had expected it to be!

There weren’t a huge number of people on the trail. This is the off season so we just showed up and hiked. During high season, people book months, if not a year in advance to hike into the Canyon.

We booked into a cabin at Phantom Ranch. I know, I know! Very decadent of us not to carry tent and sleeping bags and stay at the campground! It was rustic but quiet. The ranch, campground, ranger station and mule pens are set in a very beautiful side valley. Meals at the ranch are served “family style” with everyone passing dishes around the table. We had a very yummy vegetarian chile with salad, cornbread and a humongous piece of chocolate cake for dessert.

The next morning we had a quick but filling breakfast and were on the trail by 7:30. We headed up the Bright Angel Trail, an ascent of 4400 ft (yes, the altitude of the rim at Bright Angel is 400 ft lower than Kaibab) over 15 km. The first hour of the hike is along the Colorado River so no elevation gain. Within a couple hours we got to the Indian Garden campground and passed most of the people who'd had an earlier breakfast sitting and had started out ahead of us.

Again, great views on the way up although more enclosed in the canyon until we got higher up. The trail was quite good, although a bit icy as we got closer to the top (in the shade). We plugged along at a steady pace and made it to the top in 5 hours (guidebook estimates 6-10 hours). The trail was not as difficult as I thought it would be. Both Andrew and I felt our legs were tired but not sore. Having said that, the Grand Canyon is not to be taken lightly. There are lots of people who have died over the years from heart attacks and heat stroke in the summer.

The next day we drove out of the park via Desert View and stopped at several of the scenic overlooks as well as the historic lookout just before the park exit. We ended the day at my Dad’s place just outside Phoenix at Apache Junction.

2011-01 Grand Canyon

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Johnny Vegas

[by Shelley]
How could we resist a 3-star route called “Johnny Vegas”? Yesterday (was it only yesterday??) we were back on Solar Wall for our last day of climbing at Red Rocks. An hour’s hike took us to the bottom of the route. Andrew led the first pitch accompanied by the beat of Indian drums somewhere in the distance. Very nice! Perhaps there was something going on the at the Red Rock Visitor’s center.

I led the second and hardest pitch (how did that happen???) to the annoying sound of yelling boys. A wise woman once told me “Boys are stupid.” Why, after walking on level ground for 30 minutes and then scrambling on top of a 10 foot boulder, is there a need to yell and scream at the top of your lungs for several minutes as if you’ve conquered the world???

The guidebook said the first part of the third pitch had no protection but Andrew came up with some innovative gear placements -- threading a nut and tying a sling on a “chicken head” rock formation. It was impressive seeing him go out under a huge roof and then disappear over the arête.

The last pitch was an easy scramble up to the top of the buttress. A few rappels down the nearby gully brought us back down to the base of the route. Only to find that the zipper on the top of the pack we’d left behind was opened, a plastic bag chewed through and only one of our two apples left! The chipmunks (or whatever critters were responsible) are very bold and strong!

After a last coffee break back at The Coffee Bean, we headed east from Vegas. Very sad to be leaving Red Rocks. We did a lot in 6 days of climbing and 1 day of hiking but there’s still so much more that could be done!

Now at the Grand Canyon and packed up, ready to hike down tomorrow and back up the following day. Looking forward to some amazing views!

2011-01 Red Rocks 4

The photos are from three days - hiking up Turtlehead Peak, sport climbing, and then Johnny Vegas.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whole Foods Dinner

Shelley figures we shouldn't eat out every night (she gets some strange ideas sometimes!) so we picked up food for supper from Whole Foods. We needed to stay "home" to do laundry anyway.

We managed a tasty menu:

Buddha Jewels - tofu, peanut butter, peppers, water chestnuts, sesame seeds

Black Quinoa salad - quinoa, feta cheese, spinach, sweet potato

Stuffed Portobello mushroom - stuffed with green and red peppers, eggs (cage free), mozzarella, and parmesan

Margherita Tofu Lasagna - spinach lasagna noodles, tomatoes, tofu, cheese

For desert, a dark chocolate turtle for me, and a Grand Marnier chocolate for Shelley

And all accompanied by an organic Frey California Syrah :-)

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Yesterday we did a four pitch trad (traditional = not bolted) route on Jackrabbit Buttress called Geronimo. We expected it to be a short day with only four pitches, but unfortunately another group of three was in front of us. And of course, they were moving very slowly, and had a beginner with them who eventually decided not to climb after failing to get up the first 10 feet.

Luckily, the other two decided to descend after the first two pitches to return to their friend. (We ran into them later and they had come down a longer way and their rope had got stuck and they'd had to climb back up to free it. Not their day!)

We finished off the last two pitches without quite as much waiting around. It was a fun climb - quite steep, but big handholds so pretty easy. The only downside was that one of our cams got jammed irretrievably and it cost us $60 to replace it. On the positive side, it was an old one and we've been gradually replacing them anyway.

The raps (rappels) down went smoothly. The rock here is really nobby and it's easy for the rope to get hung up when you pull them down.

2011-01 Red Rocks 3


For the most part, Las Vegas is a wasteland for the kinds of restaurants we like - small, quiet, slow, local, organic, etc. Last night we ate at a place called Agave (presumably named after the agave plant). It wasn't quite as small or as quiet as I'd like, but the food was excellent and the building and decor was nice. Here's what we had, all very tasty.

Crispy “Street Style” Quesadilla
corn masa turnovers served with avocado-tomatillo purée, red fresno sauce, blackened jalapeño crema and spicy poblano carrot salad

Agave Ensalada de la Casa
mixed field greens with toasted pine nuts, warm goat cheese, pears, vine-ripened tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette

Black Bean and Smoked Cheddar Soup
black bean soup mixed with smoked cheddar cheese, salsa fresca and fire roasted serrano cornbread

Potato and Portabella Mushroom Tacos
yukon gold potatoes, stewed with chipotle peppers, caramelized onions, spicy tomato sauce and queso fresco

It was well accompanied by a glass of Lo Tengo Torrontes

PS. We only found this place because it is next door to the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf we have been frequenting for our morning pre-climbing coffee. (Which we also discovered by accident, but really like.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Suck it up Princess

2011-01 Red Rocks 2

[by Shelley]
I’m pretty sure Andrew was thinking “Suck it up, Princess!” But he didn’t say it out loud.

After yesterday’s longer multi-pitch route we were back to harder one-pitch sport climbs. It was my turn to lead. The first bolt hanger was a long way off the ground! The book said the crack to the left of the climb could be protected with a cam. We’re sport climbing you stupid book! All the trad gear is in the car.

“It’s an awfully long way to the first bolt,” I said.

“It looks pretty easy though,” said Andrew. “Besides, if you fall you’ll just slide down this smooth slab.”

Uh-huh. And lose a whole bunch of skin in the process. Not to mention the landing. That rock isn’t exactly padded you know. And did you happen to notice the ledge we’re standing on? It’s only a couple feet wide? And it’s sloping? And it’s another 10 feet or so to the next level of unpadded rock?

“Well, I don’t plan on falling,” I said. Suck it up, Princess.

Andrew was right though, the part to the first bolt was easy. Nice positive hand holds and good foot holds.

I clip the first bolt and look waaaay up to the second one. Ground fall potential, I think to myself and say so to Andrew. “No, I don’t think so. You’ll be fine.” Easy for him to say, safe on the ground. Who’s he trying to kid anyway?

I keep going. The first half of the 140 foot route isn’t overly difficult, just not very well protected. As I go higher though, the foot and handholds become more and more sparse until there aren’t any at all. “Trust your feet!” was the mantra with each move. Not . . . going . . . to . . . fall.

Although it was a bit unnerving, I didn’t fall! You gotta love gritty sandstone. Especially once you get used to it. That’s the joy of going to a variety of places to climb. They’re all different and all have a different feel and characteristic to the rock.

The rest of the day was a bit tamer, even the ridiculously hard climb we top roped. Andrew managed to get to the top of it, I only got about ¾ of the way. The last climb of the day was lots of fun – a layback crack with good holds and big pumpy moves.

Tomorrow is a “rest day” so we’ll do some hiking and then visit the REI store – and Andrew’s wondering if there’s an Apple store in Vegas :-)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Climbing at Red Rocks

We arrived in Las Vegas on Tues. and went straight to Red Rocks to start climbing. (After coffee, of course!) It always takes a while to get used to the rock and things seem hard at first. We did some single pitch bolted sport routes on Ultraman wall at the first pullout. We did a 5.7 that seemed really hard for that grade. When we looked it up in the new guide book it was now a 5.9 which made us feel a little better.

The next day we decided to do a longer route - Solar Slab (5.6). The easiest way to get to the bottom of the route is Solar Gully, 4 pitches of 5.1 to 5.3.

We got a late start - leaving the car after 10am and not getting to the base of the gully till 11am. The gully was actually quite fun. Because of the time, we just did the first four pitches of Solar Slab. They were good fun. It was nice to get up high (maybe 1000 feet up) and see the views. We headed down about 3pm and got off the many rappels about 5pm, just as the last light faded. It was another beautiful warm (+21c) sunny day, although it got cool when we started down and the wind picked up and we lost the sun.

Hiking out in the dark was interesting. There was a bright full moon, but it was shining straight in our eyes so it wasn't as helpful as it could have been. After a day in tight climbing shoes my toes did not appreciate being stubbed on rocks as we stumbled around. We lost the trail at one point and spent some time wandering in the desert trying not to impale ourselves on the cactus. Luckily we found the trail again. When we reached the highway we stepped into the parking lot to find our car missing! After a moment of panic we realized we'd taken a different branch of the trail and come out in a different parking area. The car was sitting waiting for us a few hundred meters away.

Haven't take many photos yet. Here are a few.

2011-01 Red Rocks 1

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Stopped at Whole Foods and picked up a bottle of wine for later. I was surprised they didn't have more organic ones. I liked the label on this one.

Shelley says if she lived near a Whole Foods with all their prepared foods that she wouldn't have to cook any more :-)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 2 on the Road

We went through a roller coaster of temperatures today. It was -12c when we started out. Soon after leaving Lethbridge I noticed the road looked wet. Strange. Then I noticed the outside temperature on the dash said +2c. As we drove south the temperature gradually rose to +6c. Then as we were driving along the windshield suddenly fogged up on the outside - the temperature had suddenly dropped back to -6c. But it rose again and got up to +12c around Great Falls where we stopped for lunch. This was 33c warmer than when we left Saskatoon at -21. It felt pretty nice.

The scenery around Great Falls was more like fall than winter. Much of the ground was bare. Flocks of Canada Geese were feeding in the stubble. But further south it was winter again with snow covering the countryside.

Then it started to rain and as we went over a few higher passes the temperature dropped. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn't start to freeze.Thankfully the lowest it got was +2c and the road stayed wet rather than icy.

Past Butte the temperature got back up to +6 but that didn't last. As we cross the border into Idaho it dropped below zero. Luckily the rain stopped and the road was dry. The sign said "Welcome to Idaho" but the thick fog that greeted us wasn't especially welcoming as the last of the daylight fades away.

We're definitely in cattle country - big herds everywhere. There was also a large group of pronghorns beside the highway. Hard to count but it looked like hundreds. We also saw a couple of bald eagles - probably feeding on road kill.

Tomorrow we'll continue South through Salt Lake and hopefully escape winter at some point. Rain predicted tonight, but with any luck it'll stay above freezing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


The Saskatchewan prairies in January are about as bleak as you can get. It's hard to tell if the sun is up yet or not. The grey of the ground and sky merge at the horizon. It's snowing lightly and there's enough on the highway that all you see of the vehicle ahead is a swirling cloud. The farms are greyed out by the snow in the air. It's -20c and there's no sign of life out there.

Shelley says "death zone". I think, yeah, it looks a bit like the summit plateau on Cho Oyu over 8000m.

But actually, what she said was "dead zone". While I study the scenery, she's engrossed in her BlackBerry, and frustrated by the lack of a signal.

I say that maybe holidays ought to be BlackBerry dead zones.

We're almost to Lethbridge and I haven't checked my email yet. But I have had my laptop out. Done a little programming, wrote this blog post.

It's not as dead as it looks out there. I've seen a rabbit, birds, deer, and pronghorn antelope. No doubt there are foxes and coyotes out there too. It's a far cry from the color and abundant life of a coral reef, but it has it's own austere black and white beauty.