2013-03-12 The Big Hike

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Warren writes:

After a slightly better night of sleep, I woke before dawn, and realized it was time to try to catch Sunrise Point at sunrise.

Hauling ourselves over there after a doughnut-sugar infusion, we made it roughly in time.

So, here’s our first piece of travel advice if you go to Bryce. The scenic overlooks of the canyon face east. Into the sun. You’re probably seeing where I’m going with this. While the golden light of the rising sun does make for a beautiful view, but it’s rough for photographs and not too kind to your eyes. You may want to try to get down into the canyon before dawn and look back on the eastern cliff face as the sun rises.

The best you can hope for otherwise, is something that looks vaguely like this.

Sunrise Point at Sunrise

Sunrise Point at Sunrise

This one turned out marginally better. Take a look at Cynthia’s post for the shots that won for the morning.

 (Warren Schultz)

Sunrise at Sunrise Point, from a better perspective.

After making the rounds of morning photo locations, we opted for a real breakfast again. This became a tradition, unfortunately for our wallets, but I’m the type that can eat a hearty breakfast and run off that for a long time.

If you’ve read Cynthia’s post already, this is the point where a plan was hatched. If she gets this look on her face, it’s best just to go along with the plan.

Determined Cynthia is Determined

Determined Cynthia is Determined

Well, more accurately, if we’re using the egg metaphor, it came from an ostrich.

Now, I’ve made it my goal for this new chapter of my life to live outside of my comfort zone. Long hike, a thousand feet of elevation change, unknown trail conditions.

Sure, why not?

Well, let me tell you why.

A thousand feet of elevation change when you’re already at 8000 feet, and … Oh, I’ll get to that.

We finished dumping our photos to the laptop and charging things that needed charging and polished off a good breakfast before heading outside to prep our gear.

I opted to go with my big hiking pack with the camera backpack inside in order to make the weight distribution better. (If you’re not aware, big hiking packs with belts place the majority of the weight on your hips, not shoulders.) This of course added weight, so I dumped anything that I could from the hiking pack and camera bag within. I was down to essential camera gear, a bit of snack food, and our emergency supplies (water filter and first aid). (And the integrated 2L hydration system. Needed, but heavy.)

Cynthia reduced down to a super-light daypack and camera, with a hydration system, and small essentials.

We headed off down the path, and fortunately after the previous day’s warm weather, and low foot traffic, there was no ice on the trail.

Snow, however, we found. A. Lot. Of. Snow.

Something you come to find visiting parks with trail ratings is that “strenuous” is relative to each park. I’ve been on trails where a difficult trail simply meant a steep incline over a short distance.

This trail was set to 11. When there wasn’t snow, we were walking on a single-lane goat path. When there WAS snow, we were following the snowed-over tracks of some insane cross-country skier from a few days past who liked to travel on the very edge of some rather steep slopes.

Cynthia on one of the wider trails

Cynthia on one of the wider trails

We were careful to keep between the tracks and the uphill slope, as it was hard to tell where the edge of the trail was… And a 200-foot face-first toboggan run with trees and rocks down the canyon wall with a sudden stop at the bottom didn’t sound like a lot of fun.

Have I mentioned I am not super-fond of heights?

Leaving the shadow of a long ridge, we found ourselves in the sun, and were able to shed an outer layer. Shortly thereafter, we discovered what happens when the snow melts.

Mud.

Warren - In Mud

Warren – In Mud

Some of the most viscous, clinging mud I have ever experienced. Basically the same material as the hoodoos, a mix of small pieces of stone, earth, and I think, clay. The longer you stood in place, the more that would accumulate on your boots. It felt like each foot weighed ten pounds when you took your first step after stopping to take photos. We became thankful for small amounts of snow, because it allowed us to get the mud off for a little while.

Now, don’t think we weren’t having fun. But I want to frame the level of energy we were having to expend, and what you should prepare for if you attempt this someday. I discovered on this trip that while my body may not be happy with me, I really enjoy this sort of challenge. Add good conversation and spectacular scenery, and it was more than worth it.

That being said, make sure you’re in good physical shape before attempting this one. I dropped 35 lbs to prepare for this trip, and I can’t imagine doing it in my previous shape. Safety first, folks.

Speaking of which…

We met up with an older, solo hiker who had clearly spent a lot of time on trails. Due to our photo stops, he ended up leapfrogging past us. After a while, we met him as he was coming back up the trail. Remember, this was a loop, not an out-and-back.

We chatted for a bit about the trail conditions up ahead. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Hip-deep snow every time you were in a shaded area. Pulling out our trusty NatGeo map, we looked at the topo rings and determined there were good odds the trail would actually have more snow as we continued beyond where he’d turned around, not less. We thanked him and continued on, determined to at the very least make it to some of the named features on the trail before deciding whether to turn around or not.

The scenery continued to be spectacular, and we did indeed discover the snow in question. And yes, it was just as deep as he’d said. It actually may have gotten deeper, but we opted to follow his lead (obvious in the deep snow), and detour off-trail slightly into a dry riverbed to avoid the worst of it. After numerous stops for photos along the way, we finally reached the Tower Bridge formation.

 (Warren Schultz)

Tower Bridge

We snacked and regrouped a bit after taking photos, and proceeded a bit further down the trail just to see what lay ahead. After a short amount of time, however, we did the math and determined that even if we didn’t stop for more pictures on the way back up, we were likely to be finishing the hike near twilight… And there were a few places on the trail that that didn’t seem like such a great idea.

Slightly disappointed, we turned around and headed back up. Cynthia spied an area she had to try to get a few shots of on the way, so we took one last stop, and then trudged the rest of the way back up.

This is the part where the weight of my pack came into play. The combination of fatigue and altitude were taking a lot more out of me per mile than I had hoped. The bag itself didn’t feel heavy on my back, but it was taking a toll on my legs.

Never let it be said that Cynthia doesn’t pull her weight. Literally. She offered to switch packs, and after confirmation that she was really sure about that, we did so. Funny how much easier it is to go up a hill where you can’t quite get a full breath of air without 20-30lbs of gear on your back. We swapped packs a few more times on the way back up, and crossed the finish line (we reached the parking lot) as light was starting to fade.

Victory.

I’ll be honest. I’ve been more exhausted at other times in my life, or traveled greater distances on foot, but this was different somehow. I’d completed a challenge that was physically demanding, mentally strenuous, and still came out on top. And it was because I’d committed myself three months before to preparing for this trip by training and losing weight. Researching hiking gear, national parks, weather averages, photography techniques and equipment, etc, etc… It had all worked. It was a sense of accomplishment a bit different than anything else I’d experienced before, and it felt fantastic.

We opted to grab a few photos of the sunset which we were just in time for, before heading off to dump our day’s work onto the laptop (and backup drives) for viewing.

20130312-Bryce Canyon-8273

Another successful day of adventure in the bag.

As always, find more photos in the gallery:

 (Cynthia Kazanis)

Another shot from Cynthia of our end-of-the day shoot.

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