Grand Canyon’s North Rim

Having seen much of Zion on our 3-day hike and then dayhikes, we hopped in our rental cars and drove to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.

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It was June (read: HOT!) and our time was limited, so a trip below the rim was not in the cards. Instead, we opted to hit up two overlooks above the canyon. Stop number one was at Bright Angel point. This is, probably, the most visited overlook at the north rim. It’s a short trail (maybe a quarter of a mile round trip) with almost no elevation change. And, it is located right near the Historic Grand Canyon Lodge.

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We were there at midday with clear skies, so everything was a bit hazy and blown out, but there is nothing that compares to the grand canyon on this planet. Jessica and I are definitely planning to get back here someday and venture below the rim for a few nights. I’d also like to do a rim-to-rim hike at some point in my life!

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After seeing the big ditch from the busiest spot, we headed off on the road to explore a different more secluded overlook: Cape Final. The trail was a mostly flat 2 mi jaunt through pine forest to an overlook on which we got some much needed privacy. The elevation helped keep the air cool and we enjoyed exploring the forest and canyon rim.

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The Narrows and Echo Canyon

My bachelor party hike across Zion was one of the most amazing and memorable experiences I have had. Seeing so much of the park, and doing so with my closest friends, was unforgettable. What I have yet to share was a bit more exploring I did with my friends after we complete most of the trans-zion trek.

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While a few folks had to depart after we returned to Springdale, Doug, Jamie, Charles and I stuck around and left early the next morning to head up the narrows.

The narrows is maybe the most incredible hike in the world. After a 20 minute bus ride up Zion Canyon, you walk about a mile down a trail as the walls of the canyon work their way closer and closer to you. Eventually, there is no longer enough room for a trail and hikers begin trudging their way through the waist-deep river.

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Working our way up the river for about 2 or 3 miles, we reached the canyon’s junction with Orderville Canyon and the incredible Wall Street section of the river. Opting to save Wall Street for the end, we hung a right and worked our way up Orderville.

IMG_5771 IMG_5784Exploring Orderville meant navigating a series of obstructions built by flash floods. Some were quite passable and just required a little balance. Others were not so easy.

After about 20 minutes we reached an obstacle we probably would have considered impassable had it not been for the large group of young girls who were already passing the small falls. One-by-one we carefully slide on our butts up the side of the canyon before making an uncomfortable long step onto a narrow rock.

Missing the long step was not a big deal. It just meant a short ride down a slick and wet sandstone slide into a shoulder deep pool of water. All of us made the step except Jamie whose foot slipped, sending him into a cold and wet plunge. As he slide around the corner he braced himself with his oft-injured shoulder which slipped out of its socket.

Luckily this was not a new experience for Jamie and he quickly relocated his dislocated shoulder. A bit of soreness for a while, but not disaster. Doug, Charles and I continue up the canyon for about ten minutes and then turned around back towards the main canyon.

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Every time I visit the narrows (this was #3) I am shocked by the scale and beauty. I’ve been in March with Jess, solo in June, and then with friends this past June. And, while you can’t beat the privacy of a March visit, the need to wear dry suits kills some of the enjoyment. Sliding in and out of the water to deal with the 95+ degree heat is a the perfect summer activity.

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With only a half day left in Zion before heading to Las Vegas, Dan (who had just met up with us), Charles, and I wanted to get another quick hike in. I suggested climbing up to Echo Canyon on the trail to observation points.

We rode the park shuttle, hopped off, and began the the climb up the switchbacks to Echo. We were huffing it pretty good by the time we got there, but the quiet, solitude and beauty of the canyon were well worth it. I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

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Clambering into the Clouds

As Jessica and I walked through the clouds along an exposed rocky tree line, it was easy to imagine we were somewhere in the western US. But, we were actually just a few hours north of our Massachusetts home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It’s early August, and we are celebrating our one-month wedding anniversary with a two-night backpacking trip.

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Our plan is to complete the Pemi loop — a 29 mile traverse of a u-shaped ridge line in New Hampshire’s Pemigewasset Wilderness. With beautiful weather in the forecast, wedding planning complete, and my mother volunteering to babysit our pup, we couldn’t be more excited for 3-days of backpacking.

Most of our hiking experience has been out west. Last summer we drove cross-country (and back) and we have made lots of trips to various locales in the mountain and western time zones. While I had read that hiking in the whites can be challenging, I was optimistic that we had set a challenging but reasonable itinerary.

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There is that moment on every flight where the plane bursts through the clouds into the upper reaches of the troposphere. The light changes as you climb up and up. Great hikes mimic this experience in slow motion. After climbing about 3000′ on easily-graded wooded trails, we earned our through-the-clouds moment when we climbed out of the trees and onto the summit of Mt. Flume.

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Mt. Flume’s summit marked the beginning of what is essentially a 15 mile ridge line: a u-shaped tour of the the Pemigewasset Wilderness and many of New Hampshire’s 4000 foot peaks. But, most of that tour would need to wait for the next day as we descended off the ridge to our cozy shared platform at the Liberty Springs Tentsite.

Day two was to be our biggest day of the trip. So we got some rest next to a nice father daughter pairing who were thankfully very quiet. We would need that rest on day two when we would learn how much more rugged New England hiking can be than on the trails out west.

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After breakfast and breaking camp, Jessica and I climbed our way back up to the mountain crest and continued along the loop. The beginning of our day took place on what is known as Franconia Ridge. Nearly the entire ridge is above the tree line, and the views are predictably exemplary. We lucked into perfect weather: 60s with a light breeze and moderate cloud cover which rolled up the western sides of the peaks sometimes hiding the trail and the nearby peaks.

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Franconia Ridge was incredible. The light, the views, and the exposure of the trail are all fantastic. As we made our way across the summits of Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette, we kept finding that we were falling behind our usual pace and schedule. Honestly, months of planning our wedding and then all of the eating and drinking associated with the event had likely taken a toll on our fitness. We just were not in the same kind of shape we had been in the previous summer when we had been hiking every day.

Compounding our less-fit-than-usual issues were the trails. New Hampshire trails are notoriously difficult and for good reason. Unlike trails out west, which are often graded for travel by horseback, the trails in the White Mountains are rocky and steep. Walking down the trail often means hoping from rock to rock or clambering with hands and feet down a steep gully. There were many times where I felt walking the trail more closely resembled scrambling than hiking.
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Going downhill was as slow as going uphill because of the steepness of the trail. And, by the time we reached the midpoint of our second day, it was already late in the afternoon. At that point it was time to consider our options. Knowing we were feeling tired and still had a lot of hard hiking left, we decided to bail on our original route. We left the ridge and headed south on the Franconia Brook Trail with a new destination: Thirteen Falls Campsite.

We were pooped by the time we arrived and claimed a secluded spot at the campsite, and I knew we had made the right decision. We were able to cook dinner, refill our water bladders, and happily climb into our sleeping bags before the sun set. Both Jessica and I can be pretty stubborn, so it was not easy to give up our planned itinerary. Sometimes, though, you have to be realistic about what you can (and want) to do. In this case, choosing to adjust our route ensured we both enjoyed our trip more. And, enjoyment is key when you are trying to convince your new life-partner that this backpacking thing can be fun!

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