Sunday, December 11, 2011

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike

I completed the Rim to Rim back in October with two buddies, and figured it was about time to do a write up on it.  While words (or even pictures) can't do the Grand Canyon any justice, I want to capture some of the adventure while it's still somewhat fresh in my mind.  This will certainly be a long post, as this was an epic trip.

The idea to try for a Rim to Rim started all the way back in may during the Badlands adventure in South Dakota.  The Red Fox and I talked about it, decided we wanted to go for it.  The fall of 2011 was the chosen as the target, because it typically provides the best hiking weather.  Planning in earnest started in July.  We decided on doing the hike in 3 sections, spending two nights in the Canyon.  You can apply for the permits starting 4 months out, which we did, and still the first one was shot down.  Luckily the second application was successful, and with our 3 person backcountry permit in hand we were able to finalize the travel plans.  My friend Josh locked in the third spot, and so the expedition was officially formed.

The challenge in doing a Rim to Rim is of course, getting transportation around the Canyon.  Belatedly we decided next time we would just do the Rim to Rim to Rim and avoid the problem altogether!  But in the end, we just forked over $80 dollars a head for the Trans-Canyon shuttle, which also required advanced registration since regular shuttle service stops after Oct. 15.  Likewise, reservations for a campsite on the South Rim, and a lodge for the final day were made.  Even four months out, choices were slim.  But luckily we obtained an open campsite at the Mather campground, and one night as the Maswick lodge for the end of the trip.

Sunday Oct 16
We boarded a Southwest flight from BWI to Phoenix (surprisingly there aren't that many airports near the canyon, unless you want to pay big bucks).  We got our rental SUV and bombed north, arriving at the South Rim after a 4 hour drive.

We played tourist for a little while, checked out some overlooks and generally got the lay of the land.  We located our campsite at the Mather Campground, then loaded up on some food to cook over the campfire.  We spend that night out under the stars.

Monday Oct 17
I didn't get much sleep that night, and climbed out of my sleeping bag about about an hour before dawn.  Soon everyone was up, and we loaded up our packs for the short drive over to the Backcountry visitor center.  We left our car there, and walked a half mile to the Bright Angel Lodge where the shuttle would pick as up.  We got one more look from the overlook at steep climb we would be making in just a few days.

After a short wait, the shuttle arrived.  We loaded up our packs, a couple bags of food, and two bundles of firewood we planned on using up that night (the North Rim in about 1000 feet higher in elevation, and much colder).  The drive around the canyon to the North Rim took just under 5 hours with a couple of stops for fuel, including one at a bridge over the Colorado.

We stopped for some quick pictures in the blinding sun, then back in the shuttle we went for the last leg.  The scenery changed steadily, and we marveled at Arizona's awesome landscapes.  It was somehow different from all the other adventures we had been on, even the relatively close Utah.  Eventually the desert gave way to forest as we closed in on the North Rim.  We entered the park, and were dropped off at the abandoned check-in center.  We quickly gathered up our gear and heading into the campground.

After staking a claim at a campsite (all facilities were shutdown for the winter, so it was first come first serve), we had a quick snack then began exploring the rim while walking towards Bright Angel Point.  There we spent a while chatting with an off duty park guide and a gentleman who seemed for all intents and purposes to be a professional hiker.  He proved a wealth of information about the canyon, and also offered up some other lesser known hikes to check out for future adventures.

On hiking back to our site, we found our food stores had been raided by marauding ravens!  We lost a total of about 7 or 8 mountain house dinners.  Luckily I had stashed my share of the food supplies in Jake's tent before heading off.  The other guys had a few snacks left.  We had just enough food for that night, and the next night.  At this point, there was nothing to be done, there was quite literally only one way out and back to civilization, and that was down through the Canyon.  We enjoyed a fire using the wood we had brought and some leftover from departed campers.  Ate a hot dinner and then hunkered down for the night, anxious to began our journey in the morning.  The remote and empty North Rim gave an even more spectacular view of the starry sky then had the South Rim.  This night I opted to sleep under my tarp since the wind was picking up.

Tuesday Oct 18th

The night was pretty chilly, but clear and dry.  As usual I tossed and turned, never quite able to get comfortable with just my thin sleeping pad, but I stayed plenty warm.  We awoke just before dawn for a bite of breakfast, then quickly broke camp and began hiking north towards the North Kaibab Trail Head.  The weather couldn't have been better, with just a hint of chill in the air and clear sunshine overhead.  We saw just a few other campers beginning to stir as we left the North Rim Campground behind.

Arriving the the North Kaibab TH, we took a moment to check out what we were in for, but didn't tarry long.  The beginning of ~7 mile hike down was mostly in the shade as we worked our way through the switchbacks.  Breaks in the foliage came often, giving us awesome views of the Canyon and the lower points of the trails.

The trail was fairly wide and sandy, with occasional rocky bits.  I was using hiking poles for the first time, which at first seemed like a cop-out, but as we cruised down the switchbacks the poles took the brunt of the impact instead of my knees.

We passed several groups of hikers as we made our descent, and made a detour to Roaring Springs for a break and some lunch of snack bars and apples.  Climbing down further off trail we explored some pools and streams, cooling our heals for a few minutes in the frigid water.

At this point the trail was primarily desert, very canyon-y.  We encounter some small wildlife, many lizards, a snake, and squirrels.  The temperature climbed as we descended, and the blazing sun ensured we sweated constantly.  But it was never miserable, and we encountered constant bits of shade.  I can only image making this hike in the summer months, it truly would be an oven as I had seen described on the park website.

We made good time in reaching Cottonwood Campground, our first 'backcountry' camp site.  Services are minimal at Cottonwood, but it has water and pit toilets.  We spent a few minutes carefully selecting a campsite with some shade, as at this time the sun was fully overhead and beating down on us.  We were probably the first or second campers to arrive, but others quickly flowed into the site.  We explored the nearby Bright Angel Creek, and did some fishing.  Though we saw several Rainbow Trout, we only managed to entice one with out bait.  But it made dragging the cheap Chinese made fishing rod with me worth it!

As usual, the other hikers proved a wealth of information.  After talking about our incident with the Ravens, one hiker told us if we hurried to Phantom Ranch (our next campsite) we could put in our reservations for steak dinners.  Another pair of girls we met had actually run out of food, and Jake kindly gave up some of our meager remaining supplies.  We ate what we had left for dinner that night, and then all three slept out under the stars once again.  The stars and moon were so bright it almost kept us up all night, but it was a gorgeous view.

Wednesday October 19th
The night was mild, almost warm.  Though we didn't sleep a lot once again we were up before the dawn for some breakfast.  We hit the trail before the sun ever reached us, and as it turned out we would spend most of the day in the shade as we descended even lower into the canyon.  Trees were few and far between except right around Bright Angel Creek, but Cacti abounded - and a misplaced foot sent me sprawling into one.  I got to take home a number of souvenirs in my left hand arm, but other than some mild irritation no damage was done.

We passed just a few hikers coming from the south, but none the the Cottonwood caught up to us as we were making a good clip to ensure we had steak for dinner instead of empty bellies.  We still took our time however to enjoy the sights, making a lengthy detour to Ribbon Falls, which from a distance appeared to be a tiny trickle.

Getting closer, it was much bigger then we thought, cutting through the canyon wall, creating a very lush and wet micro-climate.  We spent some time climbing up, around, and behind the falls.  It was amazing to see water oozing out of the rock all around in this tiny canyon, all flowing to the east to join the Bright Angel.  Still having my pack with me, I made a cross country bee-line for the Kaibab trail, while Josh and Jake back-tracked to wear they had stashed their packs.  After fording the Bright Angel creek we met up again and continued our fast walk south.

The trail leveled out while gradually descending, the canyon walls getting closer and higher.  At the lowest elevations the trail was cut right out of the side of the canyon, with the Bright Angel running just next to it.  Large sections of the pathway were covered with rock piles, and the air was quite cool here - the sun never quite touching the canyon floor.


At last we arrived at Phantom ranch, exhausted and sore from the last few miles of hot marching.  Walking into Phantom Ranch was almost like going back in time, and stumbling into a western frontier town.  We dropped our packs in front of the Cantina/General Store.  As luck would have it, they had exactly three steaks left!  We got in our reservations, picked up some snacks and cold beverages to refill our tanks in the meantime.

We wearily shouldered our packs once again, marched south a little less than a mile and picked out a campsite for the night.  Just as we made ourselves comfortable, a train of a dozen mules bearing riders from the North Rim passed by on the other side of the Bright Angel.  More hikers trickled in from both directions, and the site quickly filled up.

Wildlife through the canyon had been abundant, even here mule deer wandered right through camp.  We explored the nearby raft landing beach on the Colorado, encountering more mule deer.  From there we had a good look at the ascent - 9 miles which seemed to go straight up.  Back at camp, we took a quick siesta, and then left plenty early for the walk back to the cantina.  Dinner was served family style, and we hungrily devoured our steaks and all the sides we could get our hands on.  Nothing went to waste!  During dinner, an older woman who had just come down the trail had a feinting spell.  She was alright after a minute, and the proprietor said this was a fairly common occurrence, even in the mild fall months.  Another reminder to rest often and always hydrate!

Laying under the stars once again that night, sleep was elusive.  The moon was as bright as ever, and our neighbors took awhile to quiet down.  Several of the less considerate campers had a bad habit of shining their headlamps with reckless abandon, usually directly in our faces as they stumbled around looking for their campsite.  But after a few hours of shut eye, we were up again just as the sky began to lighten.

Thursday Oct 20th

Tightening down our packs for the last time, we took a few minutes to gather ourselves - then off we went.  The next 9 miles would be a grueling endurance battle.  We crossed the bridge over the Colorado, and quickly reached the switchbacks that would take us up the approximately 6000 foot elevation gain.

Despite the brutal incline we passed many groups of travelers, keeping a good pace until we reached Indian Gardens.  This would be the half way point, a good spot for camping if you want to break the climb in two.  This wasn't in the cards for us however, we merely took a 15 minute break for some snacks and to fill our water bottles.  We chatted up other hikers taking a similar break, some headed up, some down - then to keep from freezing in the chill morning air and shade we got on the move again.

Soon we found the sunlight again, and began the slow steady slog uphill.  We broke the remaining 4.5 miles into thirds, as there was a rest stop every 1.5 miles.  Jake would invariably beat us to each stop, with Josh just a few minutes behind me.  We would regroup, refresh for a few minutes and then begin again.

This climb truly tested my endurance, and I found myself wishing I had spent more time on cardio training.  The closet thing I have to compare it to is the Upper Yosemite Falls trail, which I thought was actually easier, but the descent there left me a total wreck.  The hiking poles had saved me from serious muscle damage on the North Rim Descent, but the relentless uphill struggle of the South Rim was truly exhausting.  Every step was a test to keep moving.  But we did, all three reuniting at the top for much deserved congratulations.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

PNC Bank - It seemed like a good idea.... the time. When choosing a bank for Serenity Computers, I looked at the usual suspects. My current bank Wachovia was in the process of being absorbed by Wells Fargo. And Well's didn't offer any free business checking options. Not having had stellar experiences with them in the past, I nixed them from the contenders list. Next was Chase. While they had no local branches, they had a good rep for being to do everything online, and my experiences with them were good. But while trying to setup an account online (or even get some more info) I ended up with variations of "This service is not available at your location". Well....ok, guess they are cut from the list too. Next up was PNC...close to my house, a big plus - And it seemed you could set everything up online in just a few minutes! A winner!

Not so much. And so begins the string of screw ups culminating in this blog. And it's sad really. All the reps I have spoken to have been friendly, courteous, and for the most part knowledgeable. But PNC's technology infrastructure is so flawed that at this point I'm not even sure how they continue to operate.

And so from the begging - that initial sign up on line did just take about 10 minutes. 10 minutes until you arrive at a screen that says "Thank you very much for signing up for a PNC Business checking account....blah blah blah...please bring the following paperwork into a local PNC branch, and they will complete your account setup". Well that seems kinda weird to me, but this is my first Business checking, I guess they need to do some extra stuff, whatever.

The next day I receive a phone call from a PNC rep. He wanted to thank me for signing up. He also went through all my information again, but said I still had to go into a local branch. But not to worry, it would only take a few minutes because the bulk of the work was already done. Ok that sounds good I guess....whatever.

So the next day I go into my local branch. The woman who helped me was very nice, she spend a few minutes trying to pull up my info - but couldn't find anything. She then started me on some signature paperwork. Then called another branch for a manager to help. After much waiting, and a few calls back and forth, it was decided that I couldn't actually setup a business account at this branch. I would have to go to the 'full' branch just down the road. They were closing at 5 (it was about 4:45 at this point), but if I promised to hurry right there, the manager would wait for me and get me taking care of.

So I went on down the road to the other branch, not hurry too much because at this point I didn't really give a crap. If I got there and they were gone I was finding another bank. But the manager was instead there, and unlocked the door. She was very nice and helpful, and did indeed manage to get my account setup. When I inquired about online access, she said to just go online, and use the pin I had just created for the account. If that didn't work, she assured me, a pin would be mailed to my address in 5-7 days. Ok......

Naturally, my pin indeed did NOT work. So I patiently (read - not patiently at all) waited for this mythical pin to arrive. After too weeks I'd had enough and called them up. I managed to get a rep on the phone who agreed after some badgering to give me a pin over the phone. After trying for 20 minutes with the rep on the phone to setup the account, no dice. Finally he gave up, and said maybe I had to wait for the pin to come in the mail. Whatever, fine.

A couple days later it finally arrived! And it didn't work. Another phone call, another pin giving over the phone which also didn't work. "Was I using my social or my business EIN on the setup screen?" My EIN I assured the rep. "Try your social" he says. But I setup the account with my EIN....whatever... I tried it. Didn't work. "I'm going to send you ANOTHER pin, you should receive it in 5-7 days". YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FRIKKIN KIDDING ME.

Another week goes by, I finally got another mailer with a pin. Naturally, it didn't work either. Another phone call, another rep. This guy seems to know a thing or two luckily. After a couple of new pin attempts over the phone, and resetting my account - success! Online access! Something I had taken so for granted with all my other banks. It was mine at last. I was finally free to view balances, pay bills and bask in the glory of the slow trickle of money into my checking account.

All was well for over two months. Then came a day when I noticed a sign declaring "Deposit your checks from your mobile phone!" At last! Technology I had seen with Chase, but had thus far been denied to PNC customers. I quickly went online to PNC sites to see how to get this ball rolling. No information to be found anywhere. Perplexed, I thought to myself "well maybe it's in their mobile app, and I just need an update!" Searching in the Android market place, it seems I had the most up to date version (already months old itself). Getting frustrated, I did some quick googling. It didn't take long to learn that check depositing from the PNC Droid App was coming sometime...maybe. But it was available now with the Virtual Wallet App. What the hell? Whatever, I'll just download that and be set. A quick search and I had the app downloaded and installed. At last! No more making trips to the bank to make deposits! The holy grail of banking!

I fired up the app, entered in my PNC username. Next came the expected security question screen to register my device. It asked for my mother's middle name. Great! An easy one! I hate the ambiguous security questions that you have to rack your brain to remember how you answered them. I quickly typed it in only to be chastised that I had answered incorrectly. Bull! I tried it again, no joy. Ok, maybe I had made a mistake at put in my mother's maiden name, I could see myself doing that. Typed that in, no joy. Maybe no caps? Rejected. Your username has been suspended. SERIOUSLY!?!?

Quickly switching to my laptop, I found my username had indeed be suspended. An email that arrived at the same time confirmed it, and assured me I could access this notice securely via the my PNC message center once I logged into my account? "How the frik am I supposed to do that if my account is suspended!!!?!?" seemed to on the nose so I instead dialed the number on screen in a rage. The auto prompts asked for my username, which I entered. "That is incorrect" said the infuriating computer voice. "Lets try something else, please enter your social" - a few seconds of furious typing - "I'm sorry, your account has been suspended" - NO SHIT - "Let me connect you to a representative who can help you".

Said representative proceeded to ask me for my username, which I told her.
"That isn't correct, it is usually your social", she told me.
"What? Why would it be my social? I've always used the same username!" I replied, starting to lose it.
"Oh wait, it seems you have never completed your account setup and security questions." she declared.
"How can that be?", I asked.
She then proceeded to tell me, "My records show you have never created an online account."
"WHAT?!?! I've been using it for two months!!!!!"
"Is there another signer on your account?" She calmly inquired.
"NO, there isn't. And I'm sure you can clearly see that from YOUR RECORDS.", I replied.
"Well it seems you have never had an account, we are going to have to send you a pin in the mail, it will arrive in 5-7 days."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Popping the question

After almost two years of dating, I decided I had waiting long enough and proposed to Joan. After calling me an asshole (cause she thought I was kidding, but the ring finally convinced her), and after she stopped crying (eventually) - she said yes! I've never considered myself a commitment-phobe, but it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But afterwards, several months worth of tension and stress just melted away. I didn't realized how much I was worrying over the decision, but now that it's done I feel completely happy and relaxed again - it's awesome! Of course within five minutes the news had gone viral over FB and chaos ensued, but it's all good.

Countdown to the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim!

The most complicated trip I have been involved in planning, hands down. But all the arrangements are made, and I can't believe how close it is! Pumped!

....time until The Red Fox, Landseer and I embark on what is sure to be the trip of a lifetime.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Amazon Kindle Review

Ok, maybe it's doesn't quite fall into the category of outdoor gear, but I drag this thing with me everywhere now. It's even light and compact enough to go on back country trips (just keep it dry!)

Some basic info about Amazon's Kindle
, in case you aren't familiar with it:

- It is a true 'ebook', not a portable computer or tablet
- Uses 'liquid ink' technology, not an traditional LCD or OLED display
- Can hold thousands of books
- Connects through either a free 3G connection or through Wifi to download content
- Battery life of about a month! (with wireless turned off)
- You can read it in direct sunlight! (even with polarized shades on)
- You get books from Amazon (literally hundreds of thousands of books available)

This review covers the new version of the Kindle, which is basically just a little faster and also sports a more streamlined look then the original. Amazon has also added 'ad supported' models for a cheaper price tag that will display Amazon ad's instead of the random artist portraits etc from the original. A small price to pay to save ~$50 I would say.

In a nutshell, I love the Kindle. I use it for exactly what it's intended for, reading books. This isn't for browsing the internet or checking your email. It is quite literally an electronic translation of a paper book. The advantages of this very specific purpose are many. As I listed above, the screen is truly electronic paper, you can read it in bright light just like it was a paper book (try that with your iPad). This means you will need a light source when reading in a dark room (or outdoors at night) just like a real book. The other huge bonus of this design - the battery lasts almost forever. You can forget to charge this thing for up to a month and still be able to read. If you totally forget that it's actually an electronic device and the battery dies completely - don't worry, you can fully charge it in about 45 minutes.

Content is pulled down from Amazon either through the free 3G service or through a Wifi connection. The Wifi only models are a bit cheaper, and totally fine if you don't absolutely have to be able to download books anywhere anytime.

Extra bonus - you can download a free Kindle book reader for just about anything, your PC, Mac, droid, Blackberry etc etc. At present time Amazon lets you download one book on up to five different devices. So you can even do some limited sharing with your friends using a little creativity (I will go into detail about this another time). And even better, all your devices will automatically sync to your current page! I regularly bounce between reading on my Kindle, Droid Smartphone, and Kindle for PC on my laptop. It's almost too easy.

And of course, there are a myriad of accessories available. You can customize your Kindle with a fancy cover. I keep mine protected with a simple leather cover. Though there are fancier ones with built in lights like this one: Kindle Lighted Cover (Fits 6" Display, Latest Generation Kindle) Charging is done with a standard micro usb cable. So charging from your laptop on the go is a snap, or with a portable USB charger.

My original Kindle has operated without flaw from day one, and I really expect it to live forever. The buttons all feel solid still, and the screen is very robust.

The only con I have ever encountered - getting harassed by flight attendants during take off and landing. They will insist you 'turn off' your Kindle, even after you inform them that it doesn't 'turn off'. (You can turn off the wireless connection, that's it). Even after you explain it to them, then will still demand you shut it off. So I just flip the cover closed, wait till they walk away, then continue reading. As an alternative, you can ask them to turn it off for you, and watch their dumbfounded expression as they push the standby button with no effect. Good times.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010: The Year in Review

It was a pretty crazy one for me, and easily blew away 2009 and all the years before. Started a relationship with an awesome girl in early January, so far I haven't scared her off! Did the Polar Bear Plunge on my 30th birthday with my new friends from BSOM (E2P2!!!). We all managed to keep our lives and all our limbs despite the entire event being shutdown due to the cold - AFTER we had all plunged. This of course all happened right in the middle of Snowmageddon, during which The Bat Mobile earned it's hefty car payment.

From Snowmageddon Dec 2009 - Feb 2010

I cemented my position at the Sleep Lab. While far from my dream job it is a lot less travel and more money, so two steps in the right direction. This freed up time and funds for me to get outdoors again, doing the things I love. Biking, Hiking, Kayaking, evening running again. Camped out in the Outerbanks during a rainstorm, and then hit the beach when the weather finally broke. The Batmobile again gets a workout hauling people and gear out on the beach.

Went on several epic hiking/camping adventures, including the incredible adventure to Capital Reef National Park in Utah with my former college roommate and a hilarious group of guys. Also hit trails all over Maryland I had never experienced before, went to Skyline drive for more hiking with my girl and the next week back to the same area for another overnight backpacking trip in the gorgeous George Washington National Forest where we nearly froze to death at night.

From Capitol Reef Expedition

The entire year was definitely a roller coaster, lots of time spend with friends and family, lots of new friends made. A gazillion dollars spent on outdoor gear, gas and air travel. It was worth every penny, and I hope to fill 2011 with even more epic adventures. Just need to find a way to work less and get paid the same or more......

Even when I wasn't on some crazy adventure I was hardly bored. Every week there was always something going on. It really felt like the year just flew by. In the midst of everything else my girlfriend officially moved in. E2P2 graduated from BSOM and closed out the year with the marriage of two awesome people on New Year's Eve. I don't even know what to expect from 2011, but it will be hard to top last year!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Running again

Since treating it with kid gloves hasn't been helping my knee to get back to it's old self, I've been taking it in the other direction. Hiking again has been a big help, but not enough. So I started hitting the pavement and the treadmill. It was brutal to get running again, but I figure it's either gonna get stronger or totally explode so I can just get a replacement. I'm up to running 3 miles without having to stop, and so far it hasn't falling apart. Gonna go for more distance this week and see how it goes.

Calvert Cliffs on New Year's Eve

On the way to a New Years Eve wedding, my girlfriend and I decided to stop by Calvert Cliffs for a quick hike. Southern Maryland had gotten quite a bit more snow than we did in the 'Dena.  We parked the Forester in an icy space, I grabbed my trusty Maxpedition Versipack
and off we went. The weather was surprisingly warm (at least in comparison) so the trails were a mix of wet sand, mud, melting ice and slush.  I hadn't been here since I was a kid, so it was a fun flash back.  As time was pretty limited, we took the Red trail (the shortest route) to the beach.  We passed a surprising number of people and families for as cold and messy the trails were.

From Drop Box

From Drop Box

Part of the trail looked incredibly desolate. The marshy areas of the park were still frozen solid. So it made for an interesting hike. The Red Trail is a pretty easy walk, minimal elevation gain unless you explore the side trails along the way. We made it to the beach, and spent some time exploring. Got lucky and found one sharks tooth that the scavengers ahead of us had missed.  The sea breeze on the beach started to freeze us to the bone after awhile, so we headed back into the woods a made good time to the car.  Overall, it was the perfect short hike, and we made it to the wedding with time to spare.

View Calvert Cliffs in a larger map