Tag Archives: backpacking

Descending Into Middle Earth

I have been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and I have lived to speak of it. I am being a bit facetious with my melodrama, although many have and will die venturing into the canyon. It is not a trip to enter into unprepared, but its rewards are spectacular.

I have been a member of Karl’s Extreme Things Adventure Club for a few years now. We’ve been many places and tried many things, yet this was our first collective trip into the Grand Canyon. I had only been once over a decade ago and had only spent a couple of hours at the rim. This time we would backpack down to the river, spend the night, and hike back up the following day.  The canyon is roughly a mile deep. The hike to Bright Angel Campsite at the bottom is roughly 7-8 miles. The hike back out via a different trail would be 9 miles…all uphill. The air temperature topped 100 degrees during the middle of the day. Heat exhaustion is a serious concern, especially with 40+ lbs. on your back. This was the first Extreme Things event I’ve been on where Karl felt it necessary to turn down participants he didn’t think were physically capable. Backpacking the Grand Canyon is a great—albeit arduous—trip, but it is beyond the capabilities of many.  Do not attempt it if you are inexperienced. We saw several people hiking down with little or no water. My hope is they turned around before they exceeded their personal thresholds.

I could write more about the trip and eventually I may. I will also post a GoPro video eventually. For the time being, enjoy some of the photos. If you want to see even more, check out my Facebook album.

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Goddamn Right

Here is a compilation of some of the stuff I managed to capture during my first year as a GoPro owner. It’s too bad I didn’t take it more places. There were so many times I forgot it and wished I’d had it with me.

More Summer Round-up

Black Canyon — August 2010 from Fourchinnigan on Vimeo.

Narrows Days — July 2010 from Fourchinnigan on Vimeo.

More GoPro videos from this summer. The Narrows video is a bit too long, but maybe you’ll enjoy it anyway. These were both Extreme Things Adventure Club events. 

BC Summer — Part 2 (of 2)

Near the end of May, I quit my job and fled to Canada for two and a half weeks. The first week was spent sight-seeing with Erika. The second week involved backpacking down the West Coast Trail. The last few days were spent riding the Amtrak down the coast to L.A. This entry will focus on Week Two.

I fumble around in the twilight. My hand finds the zipper. I squeeze through the tight space between the tent opening and the adjacent rock face and into the cold sand. Before me are the remnants of our failed fire. I stand, squeeze past the tent, and inspect the clothesline. Our quick-dry clothing is still drenched. The air is too damp for anything to dry. Oh well. I exit the cave and step down onto the beach. The rain has ceased for the time being. The sky is still overcast, but the rising Sun is strong enough to illuminate a gray haze. A light mist rolls across my skin. I stare out into the ocean for a bit. It’s cold. My body tends to run warm, except in the morning. No point in lollygagging. The sooner I get moving, the sooner my core temperature will increase. I hike down the beach to a small cove where I stashed my bear canister. Still safe. The bell sits atop it unmolested. Steven slides out of the cave. Time for breakfast. We sit in the sand huddled around my tiny stove and watch the ocean. The world is waking up. Birds fly past, waves roll in, the Sun fights to be seen, and perched on a rock yards away sits a bald eagle. It watches us as we eat our modest breakfast. We laugh. In America, it is Memorial Day. As we share breakfast with a bald eagle, we realize we are having the most patriotic Memorial Day of our lives. We are in Canada. It’s day three on the West Coast Trail.

A few years ago I realized my life wasn’t headed in the direction I wanted. I was coasting. I had become complacent. When I imagined my life had I lived in centuries past, I liked to think I would have been an explorer boldly trekking across newly discovered wild lands. Yet, little in my present life leant credence to that thought. Other than moving across country, struggling to find a living, and taking public transportation around Los Angeles, there hadn’t been much adventure in my life for years. At least not the kind I longed for. I knew I needed to make some big changes and I struggled to decide what those changes should be. Suddenly, fate intervened. My greatest fear came to pass—my great grandmother died. She was an old Cuban lady who spoke very little English, yet somehow communicated with everyone. Everyone called her ‘Mima’ which essentially means ‘mother.’ It was a very apt name. My family had lost its collective maternal figure. Nothing makes life seem more precious than death. It was time for change and I couldn’t wait any longer. Shortly after, I instituted several changes in my life including ending an eight year relationship with my then girlfriend that was being held together by familiarity and convenience. It was time for big changes and time to evaluate my life. Much changed over the next couple of years. As I became more proactive in my choices, I found myself finding more successes in all aspects of life—business and personal. One of the decisions I had made was to integrate adventure back into my life. Hiking, backpacking, climbing, rafting, and other outdoor pursuits became a priority. The more time I spent in nature, the more I learned about myself. It was making me stronger—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. When I read about the West Coast Trail in British Columbia, I knew it was a chance to push myself further.


The West Coast Trail runs 75km—that’s roughly 48 miles—down the Western coast of Vancouver Island from Pachena Bay to Port Renfrew. It is known for brutal storms and a history of disastrous shipwrecks. An early version of the trail was known as the “Life-saving Trail.” Its purpose was to give survivors washed ashore a solid chance of making it to civilization alive. Now, it is a week-long backpacking challenge for those who want to experience beauty and hardship in the Canadian wilderness. The descriptions I read of the WCT excited the adventurer inside me: suspension bridges, miles of mud pits, hand-operated cable cars, surging tides, river crossings, dozens of tall ladders, rocky beaches, and unpredictable weather. I knew I wanted in.

The last few years had been going well, but the time for drastic change was coming again. I decided to quit my job and embark on the path of full-time self-employment. But, first, I would go to Canada. What better way to baptize a new path than the West Coast Trail? My friend and coworker, Steven, was also quitting for similar reasons and agreed to meet me in Victoria, Canada. Together we would face the WCT before putting our individual professional lives back together. I knew the trail would be both fun and miserable. I expected both. My secret hope, although, was for an epiphany along the way.


Read the rest of the story and see more pictures…

Textual Drive-by

Catalina Diving

My ability to maintain this journal always seems to wane in the summer. A lot has happened since my last post. I quit my job and fled to Canada for two-and-a-half weeks. The first week was spent sight-seeing with Erika. Along with my friend Steven, we completed the West Coast Trail over six days of backpacking. Then I took the Amtrak train down the coast back to Los Angeles. There is plenty to share about the trip and I intend to do so over two entries in the near future.

Returning to California submerged me in the world of self-employment. I thankfully had two paying projects awaiting me. Those were completed early this month. Since then, I have finally been working on The Many Maladies of Marty Mitchell. I am hoping to post a completed excerpt from that very soon. I have also been working on editing fresh demo reels and building a web identity for a venture I intend to launch with a group of friends next month.

It hasn’t been all work. I finally learned to surf. I’m no master, but I can get on the board and ride it a ways (sometimes). I’ve been sticking to my plan to rock climb as much as possible (I’ll be getting up in a few hours to do that). Erika and I hiked the Zion Narrows again, this time with Karl and Extreme Things. We also got back in the ocean and did some more SCUBA diving (the first time since our certification last August). I’ve been shooting GoPro footage all over the place and am hoping to edit a few more short videos (if you don’t know what I am talking about, check out my sledding video).

New posts with better content on the way (hopefully soon).

Waterfall in the Zion Narrows

2009 Catch-up Part 5 (of 5): Surprise Canyon

2010 starts tomorrow and I haven’t finished posting about 2009. The last few months have been a blur of activity and compositing so Live Journal updates have suffered. Fear not, my three readers, a flurry of updates has arrived!

After finishing the Zion Narrows, I knew I wanted to do another exciting backpacking trip over the Thanksgiving holidays. The tricky part would be finding a good hike that was passable in late fall, a bit strenuous, and not especially far from Los Angeles. I searched online and through a backpacking book and settled on Surprise Canyon. Surprise Canyon is in the middle of nowhere. If you find yourself nowhere, keep driving, you aren’t there yet. Technically, it is in Inyo County on the Western outer-rim of Death Valley National Park. It is in the desert, long past a town called Trona—a place we drove through twice, yet never saw a single person, only smoke pouring from the Salt Plant into the Sulphur-soaked air. Deep into the desert are the remains of a town called Ballarat. All that remains here is an abandoned jail-house and a somewhat functioning “general store” manned by the sole inhabitant of Ballarat. And lots of RVs and ATVs. Be careful in Surprise Canyon, help is hours away.

Surprise Canyon is aptly named. After driving deep into a dry, dusty desert and two miles up a tricky gravel path—leading into the mountains and ending at a burnt-down shack—you never expect to see a lush canyon full of running water. This is the beauty of Surprise Canyon—a hike up a flowing river that takes you to Panamint City, an abandoned mining town.

Panamint City doesn’t come easily. It must be earned. The hike up the canyon is short, only 5-6 miles, but it is a strenuous hike for all except the seasoned hiker. The first portion involves non-technical canyoneering as you climb beautiful waterfalls and verdant rocks. Shortly afterwards, the bushwhacking begins. This canyon is predominantly on BLM land meaning it doesn’t receive the attention a National Park does. The canyon is highly overgrown. Brush which allegedly was cleared a few years ago is now far above a human’s height. We traveled upstream and forced our way through the foliage as the slope increased. Once the bushwhacking portion ends, the climb begins. The slope increases greatly and the stream disappears. Panamint City rests 6300 feet above sea level. Much of the 4000 foot climb takes place over these last two miles. It is a tough climb if your legs are not trained or ready for it—especially when you are carrying 30-40 lbs. on your back. November is a month of limited light. Canyon walls are high. By 5:00 P.M., it was growing dark rapidly and we still had not seen the enormous smokestack marking the city. We set up camp and prepared for a cold night.

The Story Continues + Plenty More Pictures

Hiking the Narrows

Occasionally, I look through travel books or magazines searching for ideas. There are often photos of beautiful locales and listings for resorts, expensive hotels, eateries, and other aspects of luxury travel. I can’t generally afford luxury travel and I am not a big fan of pretending to be a member of the bourgeoisie with servants dancing around me. Earlier in the year, I stumbled across two books catering specifically to adventure travel—trips where you learn about yourself and get dirty. Thanks to The Rough Guide to Ultimate Adventures I was informed of something I never suspected—there are many reasons to visit Utah.

Slot Canyons, deep and narrow gorges, abound in Utah. They are spectacular. My Rough Guide highlighted one in particular—The Zion Narrows in Zion National Park. The itinerary: hike 16 miles (mostly in a shallow river) through the Zion backcountry within the confines of a slot canyon over the course of 2 days. The particulars: The Narrows were formed by the Virgin River. Over the 16 miles we’d be walking through it, its depth would range from ankle deep to waist deep with the occasional hole requiring swimming. Water flow would vary from mostly stagnant to somewhat powerful swiftwater. When not in the water, the hike includes a lot of rock hopping and scrambling. The walls of the canyon often rise over a thousand feet on either side. Nearby rain can cause flash floods (a few occur each year) so the weather must be monitored preceding and during the hike. Once inside the canyon, you must commit. Hiking is your only feasible way out as rescue is relatively difficult and time-consuming. I love climbing and scrambling. I love water (especially moving water). When water and climbing are combined, I am truly happy. From the moment I read about the Narrows in the Rough Guide, I knew I had to go.

Zion is a 7-10 hour drive from L.A. greatly dependent on traffic running through Las Vegas. Erika and I did a number of things this year, but visiting Zion had not fit into any of our plans conveniently. As fall approached, it became clear that our chances to hike the Narrows were dwindling. The waters would grow colder and dry suits (not just wet suits) would be required. Erika is not made for the cold. Labor Day weekend was our last hope. I logged onto the National Park Service website a month prior. Only 40 people are allowed through the Narrows each day as overnight hikers. Luckily I was able to reserve the last four spots for Sunday, Sept. 6 at Camp 2. Thankfully, our posse was only four people: Erika, Al-Insan, Steven, and me. Now, we just needed to wait for the weeks to pass.

The Adventure Begins Here + More Photos

Yosemite National Park

Erika and I spent April 26-30 in Yosemite National Park. John Muir and many others have raved about the majesty of Yosemite. Their words are not exaggeration. The earth falls open to reveal blankets of rich green sewn with threads of flowing whitewater; flora climbs huge granite sculptures painted with redwood monoliths. Life seeps from its every pore. Mother Nature is reflected in every pool throughout Yosemite. Her voice in every leaf. It is grandiose, splendorous, humbling. To try to capture its beauty in a photograph is an affront. Photos of Yosemite are mere ambassadors—a tease for future visitors. You cannot capture a star in a telescope.

We slept in a primitive camping area in Hodgdon Meadow where temperatures plunged into the lower 30s at night. All campers throughout the park are required to lock away all food in bear-proof lockers or canisters. A fire was a necessity every night. This is no complaint. You can’t commune with nature by locking yourself away in an air-regulated hotel for large portions of the day. Next time I visit, I certainly want to camp in the back-country and attempt some of the many multi-day hikes… to really experience Yosemite. I want to lie on one of its higher peaks and see the stars unobstructed.

Amidst the trees, waterfalls, rapids, and rivers we saw numerous squirrels, chickaree, woodpeckers, chipmunks, and other creatures. Along the road, we dodged two deer and spotted a foraging bear. We hiked a few trails, felt the spray of a few falls, surmounted numerous rocks, and stared in awe at the sights. Yosemite can keep a person busy for a life time. We’ve barely begun to see it.

Facebook Photo Album

Our last day was spent rafting 16 miles down the Merced River with Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions. This was Erika’s first rafting experience, my second. I can’t wait for the day I get to raft class 5 and I hope to eventually have the knowledge and skill to traverse whitewater alone in a kayak.

The night before leaving for Yosemite we camped atop the little-known Pine Mountain with Extreme Things. The night was cold and the wind was ceaseless. The stars were the most populous I’ve ever seen.

More Yosemite Photos

Catch-up Part 2 (of 5): Camp Nowhere

I’ve been relatively silent for the last couple of months.
Thus, it’s time to play catch-up.
Here is what has been going on between April and the present.

After being beaten by the unrelenting Strawberry Peak, I accompanied Extreme Things for an overnight backpacking excursion into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. I had a newly purchased Camelbak, four quarts of water, ample foodstuffs, water shoes, a light tent, and everything else Erika and I would need. This time I would be prepared. Unfortunately, neither Erika or me were well-versed in the multitudes of backpacking sleeping bags. While everyone else could compress their sleeping bags down to the size of a football, we lugged oversized cottony Swiss-cake rolls six miles into the wilderness (as you’ll see in the photos). The learning never ends.

The hike brought us back down the path to the Bridge to Nowhere. We continued past it heading deeper into the mountains. By nightfall, our group of over a dozen squeezed multiple tents into a small area overlooking the mild rapids of the river. I quickly regretted my decision to leave behind a jacket as temperatures plummeted with the setting sun. My regrets paled in comparison to Karl’s after his drunken stumble into the ice-cold river after midnight. We had a great time joking around and dining on mediocre camp food while admiring two of our group cooking carne asada, rice, and later, eggs. I am awaiting the debut of his outdoors cooking program any day now.

The next morning we all hiked six miles back to our cars. Our hike was probably considerably more enjoyable than the man we met earlier who had gashed open his knee after slipping on a rock. My highlight was an uncomfortable deposit beneath some bushes along the river’s edge.

Egads! More Adventure Awaits!