Canyon: The Ultimate StairMaster

27 Apr

Do you want to feel your butt like you never have before?  How about your calves, biceps, and even your weary feet?!  Then try this product!  All you need is a steep, rocky, sandy canyon; a pair of worn-in hiking boots; a heavy pack; and plenty of water and GORP!  Well there you have it, the hottest piece of exercise equipment on the market!  Enjoy.  (And don’t forget to wear sunscreen).

To say the least, Spring Break was fantastic!  I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but the canyons, the hiking, the camping, everything was unexpected and great!  Coming from a state full of woods, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, this thing called the desert was pretty foreign to me.  I suppose I imagined a Wild West (or Three Amigos) scene with saguaro cacti, dry and cracked ground, and a burning hot sun.  Not so much the case!  The cacti were sparse and limited to small plants rather than the tall and imposing saguaro, the ground was basically sand, and the weather was cold and even snowy at times–in a million years I never expected to be camping in snow at the Grand Canyon.  That being said, we did at one point get a lot of tumbleweed crossing the road–a sure sign that Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short couldn’t be too far away, right?

Our first stop on the trip was a rafting trip down the Colorado River in Moab, Utah.  After 21 hours of driving from Illinois, we were ready for some action!  Although we were somewhat disappointed that we weren’t actually going to be doing the rafting (the guides were the only ones and had big oars that they used), it was still a lot of fun!  This was actually the guides’ first trip of the season, and they were amazed that anyone would even want to be doing this so early on in the year.  Considering we were shivering the whole time, the water drenching us was icy cold, and the motor didn’t work to get us out of the canyon at the end of the rapids, by the end of the trip we were reexamining the level of our sanity as well.  Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun.  The rapids were pretty awesome, especially being in the front of the raft and getting the brunt of the waves!  And the guides were a lot of fun, going along with our craziness and accepting our strange bonding games we played during lunch.  The canyon we went through was also really cool, huge cliffs and interesting rock.  You could even see how high the river gets later in the season; there were whole trees washed up and laying on the top of rocks maybe 30 above us as we sailed by.  And although we were a little freaked out after the safety talk the guides gave us during our lunch stop before the intense rapids, we only had one incident–Sarah fell back on the raft and had her whole upper body under water before one of our Outdoors Club leaders, McCall, yanked her up.  Sarah was a trooper though and handled it really well!

The next stop was a two-day, overnight hike in the Canyonlands National Park.  Amazing!  Absolutely beautiful and some really great and difficult hiking.  We spent the first day hiking down into the canyon and found a wicked camping spot in a passageway between two cliffs among all these huge boulders.  We even climbed the big boulders that formed one of the cliff sides up to a fantastic view of the surrounding canyon.  The next day, we started our hike out of the canyon a little rough, having a hard time finding the initial trail to take, but we quickly got on the right course and began the intense hike out.  Although it was no 127 Hours (which actually did occur in the Canyonlands area, in Blue John Canyon southwest of where we were), the sign at the trail head on the first day was correct: “this primitive route is very strenuous, difficult to follow, and recommended for experienced hikers only.”  As I said in my earlier post, I am out of shape and this was my first backpacking trip–experienced hiker I am not and endurance for strenuous uphill climbs I have not.  However, that being said, the physicality of it was a really fun challenge, and I am really glad I did it!  When you think about hiking out, you may think of uphill treks, but I didn’t really expect to have to literally be scaling boulders and to be using my arms so much.  Being especially prone to heat exhaustion and getting light headed, I was a little nervous about the tiny path with a drop-off into the canyon on one side and a vertical climb on the other.  And carrying a heavy pack didn’t make it any easier.  But, again, the challenge was so amazing and the feeling at the end was fabulous!

The next leg of the journey was a 9-hour drive to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  Well, 9 hours once we got to the highway, which we didn’t before one of our cars (of our caravan of three) got a flat tire in Moab.  As fate would have it, we were lucky where we stopped to wait for the new tire!  The gas station we were at turned out to be in the same parking lot as a pretty nice RV park, with a nice bathroom, water spout, and–dare I say it–a swimming pool.  We spent the first bit of our wait sitting in the parking lot looking longingly at the pool, but after an hour of waiting in the beating sun and realizing that we probably wouldn’t get kicked out, we moved our party into the swimming pool area (which was not locked).  Some people went swimming, but even just laying on the pool chairs was wonderful.  I guess the lesson is to make the best of any situation!  Especially when there’s conveniently a swimming pool nearby.

Two and half hours and one new tire later, we were on the road to the Grand Canyon.  Driving through the desert, we stopped at the Mexican Hat Rock, passed through Monument Valley, and enjoyed a constant Mars-like view of vast tracts of orange sand and rock.  With never-ending orange sand and cliffs dominating the scenery, I drifted off into sleep…..only to wake up that night to SNOW at the Grand Canyon.

Well, color me confused.  Apparently, I wasn’t so out of my element in the Southwest.  Minnesota had prepared me better than I had thought–but I can’t say so much for our tents.  Some of our equipment definitely was not built to be used in the snow.  Consequently, we had to get even more cozy with our neighbors as we squished into fewer tents.  Waking up to snow on the roof of our tents and seeing our breath was surely a wake-up call I didn’t expect on the morning of our expedition into the Grand Canyon.  Again, we were separating and taking two different trips into the canyon for a two-day, overnight hike.  Eventually we got all of the supplies and food separated into the two groups and took off.

Like I said, this whole trip was early on in the season, so people were looking at us pretty strangely when we were at the top of the look-out getting our packs ready to descend.  Tourists shivering in jackets, hats, and gloves were very curious who these weirdos were.  Considering a good portion of our initial descent was through snow, I can understand where they were coming from.  Eventually we got through the slippery snow (which was pretty scary and dangerous at times!) and found a great spot jutting out into the canyon to have lunch.  Taking our time, we tried to soak it all in, but I don’t think you can really grasp the vastness of the canyon.  It was really incredible.  Continuing on, we gradually de-layered until shorts and a t-shirt were the norm–strange to think it was parkas up at the top just a few hours earlier.  Apparently, there is about a 20 degree difference between the top and bottom of the canyon.  Aside from the slipping and sliding on the snow, the hike down into the canyon was a beautiful and scenic breeze.  We camped on a huge mesa surrounded by the south rim and were the only ones camping there that night.  Again, it’s hard to describe such an amazing place and hard even to completely take it all in while you’re there.

The next day’s hike was backtracking on the same one as before, and we even stopped for lunch at the same spot as before–nothing could beat it.  This was definitely not as strenuous as the Canyonlands ascent, but we still celebrated like champions once we got back to the top!  After conquering the Colorado River, Canyonlands, and the Grand Canyon, the whole group was pretty pumped for a night of relaxing at Katie’s cabin in Arizona.  Then, it was an early start to the day and a 30-hour drive straight through Saturday night back to Evanston!  I would say that getting sick on the way back was a real bummer, but I’m not going to pretend that taking NyQuil and getting a lot of sleep was a letdown.

Check out my photo album on Facebook for more pictures!

Did I mention that we ran out of gas in Nebraska….?  Don’t worry, we’re just pushing the car to the side of the road to wait.  Ah, the beauty of having a three-car caravan in case one breaks down.  Hilarity ensued, of course.  Oh well, c’est la vie!

Wear Sunscreen.

One Response to “Canyon: The Ultimate StairMaster”

  1. Kate Brouillet January 18, 2012 at 5:26 pm #


    We are producing a PowerPoint presentation and a video for a local non-profit, and would like to use a photograph from your site of the people pushing the van. Could you give us your permission and provide us with the information you would like us to include for the photo credit?

    Thank you!
    707 526 1080

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