Tag Archives: Rim 2 Rim

Shooting Up (Photo Gear)

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It’s hard to see, but I’ve circled my Nikon 1 V2 camera that was attached to my CamelBak strap while I hiked the Grand Canyon.

When I started my research for my South to North Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon, naturally I was as concerned about the photographic end of it as I was the hike. I wanted to snap those iconic pics of the Big Ditch as much as I wanted to successfully trek across it.

The first question, of course, was which camera to use besides my trusty iPhone 7 Plus. I didn’t think the iPhone would have the image quality I needed to do a great job capturing the beauty of the Grand Canyon. But I wasn’t about to carry the camera that does have great IQ, my beloved Nikon D610, which is way too heavy and too valuable to risk dropping it to its possible death.

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The Nikon 1 V2 is hanging from its Peak Design Cuff tether. Arrowed is the Peak Design Capture, which held the V2 when not in use.

So I decided to buy a used Nikon 1 V2 mirrorless camera . . . even though I have an even-older Nikon 1 V1. I liked that the V2 has a built-in flash, better image quality, and better build. And it’s a great size for hiking. I added a Nikon 1 6.7-13mm wide-angle lens and was hopeful I’d be getting amazing shots. By the way, Sony seems to be producing the best mirrorless cameras these days. Hikers really like them.

The next question was how to best tote the V2 and keep it out of the way when I was hiking with my trekking poles. I experimented with a small camera bag, but it was too awkward on my CamelBak Sundowner 22. Fortunately, I already owned the answer: The Peak Design Capture. This handy device allows you to securely clip a camera (using an included quick-release plate) to straps and belts. One push of a button frees the camera for easy use. I practiced with it before the crossing and felt it would do the trick.

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A close-up of my CamelBak’s tethering system: “A” points to the oval link attached to the strap and the Cuff (“B”). “C” is the V2 on the Capture.

Of course, being a mom with a mantra of “better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it” (as my sons well know!), I wanted to tether the camera to the CamelBak strap just in case it slipped out of my hands. I didn’t want the V2 to tumble down into an abyss, never to be seen again.

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An Indigo Marble camera strap tether

My first step was to see what Amazon had to offer. The Indigo Marble camera strap tether looked interesting, so I ordered it. Unfortunately, the rope on the one I received was defective, so I sent it back. But seeing what the metal carabiner was like made me realize that I could come up with my own tether setup that would be sturdier. A mere buck or so bought me a 3/16-inch quick link (it twists open and closed) at Home Depot. I added a Peak Design Cuff wrist strap and voila! My homemade tethering system was born. And it worked great! The V2 was secure both on and off the clip.

Looking at my hundreds of photos, I was pleased with the performance of both the V2 and the iPhone 7 Plus. Both helped me capture and remember an epic experience. With a bigger sensor, the V2’s photos are more detailed and will look better in larger sizes. But the iPhone definitely has a terrific camera that’s always handy.

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Some of the trillion steps on the South Kaibab Trail descent. (Snapped with the V2)

Pics like this one will look great in the Grand Canyon photobook I intend to make . . . one of these days!

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Long Day’s Journey Into Night

 

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And so it starts! This is the South Kaibab Trail off the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

It was 5:19 a.m. on Saturday, May 20. Time to take deep breaths and baby steps in my attempt to hike across the Grand Canyon in one day. The temperature was 33 degrees at 7,260 feet on the south rim, but it wouldn’t feel cold for long (especially about 2,500 feet down at Phantom Ranch, where it would be in the mid-80s). It was light on the South Kaibab Trail—no need for headlamps . . . for awhile.

I felt well-trained but anxious. My biggest fear? The steepness of the mostly downhill South Kaibab Trail. For several months I’ve obsessed about the SKT, reading about it, studying photos, and watching videos. But until you actually step on to it, you can’t possibly imagine what it’s really like to hike on it.

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SKT up close and personal.

The main problem with the South Kaibab Trail, besides the steepness, is that it’s so rutted from mule trains. You have to be very careful about where you step (especially considering what the mules leave behind!). Plus there are literally trillions of loose rocks (yep, I counted them all) and steps made out of logs (some with pieces of toe-tripping rebar sticking out of them) or stones that you have to step over and over and over. Repeat about a trillion times.

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It was neat seeing all the iconic signs I’ve read about, like at Ooh Aah Point.

Of course, it helps that you’re surrounded by amazing, natural beauty. Under a brilliantly blue sky, the sunrise began to reveal all the different geologic layers of the Canyon. My strategy was to walk slowly and carefully, helped by trekking poles, until I felt compelled to stop and snap a photo with either my iPhone 7 Plus or Nikon 1 V2 mirrorless camera. And that, of course, was often.

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The sun rises over the Grand Canyon.

Meanwhile, hordes of hikers and runners passed me, almost always exchanging pleasantries. Every time someone ran by, I marveled at that person’s persistence and wondered about their sanity. The SKT is treacherous to feet, ankles, and knees! Surprisingly, I didn’t see anyone trip, but I felt like we all were skating on thin ice. And I’m not good at skating either.

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Mule trains are a part of the Canyon scenery.

Somewhere around mile five of the seven-mile descent, I felt pain on the outside of my left knee. I probably strained it going over one of the trillion steps. Unfortunately, that slowed my progress as I neared the bottom of the Canyon. It was so disappointing!

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Some of the trillion steps on the South Kaibab Trail descent.

But there was never any thought of quitting. After all, the Grand Canyon’s hiking motto is: Down is optional; up is mandatory. Once you go into the Big Ditch, you have to get yourself out. And I fully intended to eventually be enveloped by the cold air of the north rim, no matter how long it took. When I set a goal and work towards it, it sure feels good to achieve it.

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This bridge over the Colorado River leads to Phantom Ranch at the Canyon’s bottom.

So I gritted my teeth and gutted it out. Soon the trail leveled off, and I crossed the Black Bridge over the mighty Colorado River and headed for Phantom Ranch. By this time I had joined up with two members of my group, Alan (who had crossed before) and Nicole (a fellow newbie). Both of them also were avid photographers, so we stopped a lot to take photos.

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At the bottom of the Grand Canyon

The three of us spent some time at Phantom Ranch, replenishing our water and refueling for the arduous climb up the North Kaibab Trail. I was looking forward to drinking PR’s famous lemonade, but the line was too long in the canteen. Andrea, who I hiked with early on the SKT, gave me a sip of hers. It was too sweet for my tastes, but at least I can say I tried it. I was more than satisfied with water and Gatorade fruit punch (for electrolytes).

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These anti-erosion stones are at set intervals along the North Kaibab Trail. Just another thing to step over and over and over!

After Phantom Ranch, our trio set a steady pace with our eyes on the prize: The north rim. Nicole was nice enough to dunk my floppy hat in the cold water that sometimes spilled over the trail from the nearby Bright Angel Creek to help me cool off. Meanwhile, Alan tried to distract me from my knee pain by asking me questions. Unfortunately, he had to settle mostly for grunts as answers. Sorry!

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The colorful Grand Canyon walls along the North Kaibab Trail

Every now and then I would stop my limping forward motion and look up, especially during the seven-mile fairly flat section. We were down in the Grand Canyon . . . the Grand Freaking Canyon. What an amazing feeling! A fraction of the Canyon’s visitors venture below the rim, so few actually hike or run across. It was totally cool beans to realize where we were and what we were trying to achieve. Even though sometimes I felt like I was an escapee from an insane asylum.

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Alan and Nicole participated in a lab study, requiring them to do cognitive exercises at certain times. I would have flunked them!

I thought I would be stronger on the uphills (featuring more of those darned steps and tight switchbacks) even with a strained knee, and I was. Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon trailmakers enjoyed a cruel sense of humor: After we began gaining elevation (“up is out” was my mantra), they led us downhill once more and over a bridge. What the heck?!? It was pretty demoralizing. Fortunately, the NKT soon resumed its uphill trek. My heart rate started to race a bit in the thin, chilly air. But I knew that cold meant one thing: The north rim at 8,250 feet!

Soon our long day’s journey into night’s crossing of the Grand Canyon would be complete . . . with headlamps. For the last hour of our hike, we needed to light our way as darkness engulfed us. Surprisingly, it wasn’t scary. I felt totally at peace, with only the clicking of our trekking poles disturbing the quiet.

As I neared the top of the north rim, I had one thought: I am one and done! I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the 24-mile north-to-south-rim return trip on Monday with a sore knee. But I also realized that achieving one Rim 2 Rim was accomplishment enough for this old gal.

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Finished at the north rim!

Fifteen hours and 29 minutes after I started, I “crossed” the finish line on the north rim. It was 8:48 p.m. Once again the temperature was about 33 degrees. The air was cold and crisp, but I was too tired to put on my jacket. Getting into the van to ride the mile and a half to the Grand Canyon Lodge’s cabins where we stayed was almost as difficult as hiking down the South Kaibab Trail. Almost!

After a bite to eat in the lodge’s Roughrider Saloon, I hobbled toward my cabin. It was pitch black out, and I had to use my iPhone’s flashlight to see where I was going. Suddenly I stopped, looked up at the sky, and gasped in awe: What had to be a trillion and five stars sparkled on the immense, dark background. I had never seen so many stars in my life! There’s nothing like the Big Ditch and a star-filled sky in the remoteness of the north rim to make you feel tiny.

And yet this little, old, insignificant speck of dust with dirty Brooks Caldera trail shoes somehow managed to hike 21 miles across the Grand Freaking Canyon! Goal accomplished!!

Next time on the blog: Post-Grand Canyon thoughts

Update and an Epic Challenge

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No, I’m not Photoshopped in. That’s actually your very own scaredy-cat blogger on the South Kaibab Trail May 20 at the Grand Canyon! (Photo by Andrea Mankin)

Remember me? It’s been almost three years since I’ve blogged here at old Random Snippets & Apertures. That’s a loooong time for neither a snippet nor photo to be read or seen.

But good news, my friends! I’m back . . . albeit just for a few blog posts. Let’s catch up a bit!

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Our expanding family! From left: Belle, Jake, your favorite old broad, C.J., and the Mister.

First, Jake, who is 25 and still works for our business, is getting married in late July! He met Belle, who has moved here from Oslo, Norway, in an online discussion forum about six years ago. Once she came to visit a couple years ago, they knew they were soulmates. The Mister and I adore her, too! We’re thrilled that Jake found love and happiness.

Second, C.J., who is 22, just graduated magna cum laude from Sam Houston State University with his marketing degree. He’s going to be staying in Huntsville to do a paid internship, but we will get to spend time with him for a couple months. Cue the happy dance music!

Which brings us to the photo at the top of the blog. The short take: On May 20, I hiked 21 miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim at 7,260 feet to the North Rim at 8,250 feet in 15 hours and 29 minutes (which includes about a half hour in breaks). About seven miles down the steep, rutted, treacherous South Kaibab Trail, about seven miles across, and about seven miles up the steep North Kaibab Trail. 2,500 feet down. 5,500 feet up.

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I’m on the literal steps of the South Kaibab Trail. Jealous of my keen fashion sense? I’ll write about my apparel and gear choices in a future blog post. (Photo by Andrea Mankin)

Sometimes I still have trouble believing that I actually hiked across the Grand Freaking Canyon at age 63!

So what led to all of this?

Join me in a short trip back through time. In the late 1980s or early 1990s, I met Arlen Isham, a legendary, fellow Houston-area marathoner. He told me that he led Rim to Rim trips across the Grand Canyon. I remember thinking how cool that would be . . . and immediately tucking that thought away, as I contemplated my fear of heights and falling to my death in a canyon. Then I got busy with family and life, and I didn’t think about R2R (as it’s called) until last fall.

In September of 2015, my wonderful Aunt Goldie (my mom’s twin sister) was dying of end-stage leukemia. We chatted on the phone, and she said, “Don’t put off doing anything you really want to do. You never know what might happen.” I told her that I had always wanted to see and photograph the Grand Canyon.

“Go do it, kiddo!” she said.

At her funeral in October, I thought about those words. I made up my mind: I finally would see the Big Ditch! But how? And when?

The answer to those two questions would finally be revealed in early November last year when Arlen posted on Facebook that he was looking for people to fill his May 2017 Grand Canyon trip. I quickly e-mailed him about it and had my deposit winging its way towards him in nothing flat.

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This 64-step monster along Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park is known (by me) as “the wicked step-mother.” It follows after four staircases I dubbed the “evil step-sisters” and a killer hill. We went up and down these (and more staircases) too many times, but they ended up being perfect training for crossing the Grand Canyon (darn it!).

Because I was coming off the mid-January Aramco Houston Half Marathon (my 13th!), I was in good cardio condition. However, Arlen quickly warned me that even marathoners can have trouble crossing the Grand Canyon, which is an inverted mountain with the hardest part at the end. He gave our group a rigorous 11-week training program that included lots of stairs and hills at Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston.

After I finished the easiest workout (the first one), my calves were killing me! I live in a one-story house and pretty much can avoid stairs everywhere I go. Suddenly I was going up and down 14 staircases multiple times, and it hurt! As in “I want my mommy” pain. Fortunately, Dr. Google had the relief plan: Calf compression sleeves, which I actually owned but rarely used. I wore them for every stair workout after that (as well as in the Canyon), and I never suffered from calf pain again.

The longest, toughest workout we endured was a triple loop of Buffalo Bayou Park a few weeks before our Canyon trip. We suffered through eight sets of the killer hill and four/four/three sets of the 14 staircases on each loop, ending up with 20 miles (in about seven hours) and almost 3,000 feet of elevation. All while carrying and drinking three liters of water in my CamelBak Sundowner, plus another liter of Gatorade and another liter of water in a bottle plus a bunch of snacks. Once we completed the triple loop, Arlen deemed us ready to tackle the Rim 2 Rim.

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Quite a sight: An elk and the south rim of the Grand Canyon!

My goal was to finish at least one Rim 2 Rim (South to North Rim), but I was hoping to also tack on the return journey after a day of rest. Considering that just seeing the Grand Canyon was my bucket-list item, I figured anything else I achieved would be great. Or is that Grand?

Next time on Random Snippets & Apertures: Deep breaths and baby steps as I hike across the Grand Canyon!