a return to the trail

So much for keeping up with this blog. Life happens—and sometimes it’s so good you forget anout everything else—but that’s no excuse not to write. And it’s no excuse not to train either—so last week my father and I packed our bags for the Grand Canyon.

My Dad is a hardcore Canyon vet, and I’m also very experienced with the corridor trails, though less so with the “cool routes” he’s spent the last twelve or so years mastering. For this trip, our original plan entailed descending the Grandview Trail to Cottonwood Creek, followed by a second a night at Grapevine, a third night at Cremation, and a fourth night at Phantom Ranch before heading up the South Kaibab to the rim. In the weeks leading up to our trip, I’d been plagued by some troubling stomach issues, so we decided to play it a little safer. We ended up doing a one-nighter at Cottonwood and climbing back up Grandview, then taking a day to explore the rim, and ending with another one-nighter at Phantom via the Kaibab both ways. In all, we hiked about 35 miles, thanks to an 8-mile boost from our so-called “rest day.”

Arriving at the Canyon, we made it to the wind-blasted rim for sunset. Looking out at the sacred natural marvel before me, I felt a stronger spiritual contact with the Canyon than I’d felt last year. I prayed for patience, and I prayed for time.


We hiked down the Grandview the next morning, which may be the steepest trail I’ve ever encountered. At least it was the most consistently steep over its mere 4.5 miles, many lined with brutal cobblestones. We didn’t capture the fierce grade in photos. I guess we were too busy suffering. Or maybe it was because we dropped our camera on one of our rest breaks and half of our photos suffered from the ensuing shutter problems the rest of the trip. Our climb back up for the lost camera added at least another mile to our day. Though Cottonwood Creek (not to be confused with the much more civilized Cottonwood Camp) is only at the level of the Tonto Plateau, getting there felt just as hard as hiking all the way to the bottom.



The same could be said for getting back up. After watching bats reel in the cool gray dusk and sleeping under the stars to the tune of the creek frogs, we woke up with aching muscles and the daunting prospect of retreading our steps to the top. The relentlessly steep ascent was sweetened by the low swoop of a California Condor over our heads and a monstrous helping of mint chocolate chip ice cream at Bright Angel Lodge.

Tuesday was our recovery day. In the morning, we explored breakfast options in Tusayan now that the Best Western has started charging for their buffet. After a successful trip to R&E’s Stage Stop for bagel sandwiches, we drove out to the tower at Desert View, which I’d never seen in my six trips to the park.



I was impressed by how open the canyon is from Desert View. Supposedly, this is the spot where Coronado’s men first set eyes on what would become a wonder of the world.




After climbing up the tower with its faux petroglyphs and more amazing views, we took a quick detour to the new visitor center before catching the shuttle out to Hermit’s Rest, the western terminus of the Rim Trail. From there, we took our time hiking 7.8 miles back to Grand Canyon Village along the winding, intermittently paved route, snapping photos along the way. Our soreness from the Grandview trail began to dissipate.





Wednesday morning, we made our second and final descent, this time taking the familiar South Kaibab down to the river and staying in the campground at Phantom Ranch. Compared to the Grandview, the South Kaibab felt easy, but by the junction with the River Trail near the last mile, we decided to change things up. The River Trail proved a lovely, shaded alternative to the hot Black Bridge crossing and traverse past the beaches.


Arriving at the glistening Bright Angel Creek always feels like entering a fairyland. We got there crazy early, in time for lunch, lemonade from the canteen, and an extended beachside chat.



The wind had picked up over the course of the afternoon and was wreaking its usual springtime havoc, so we pitched a tent this time. I was more than warm in my brand new North Face sleeping bag, which I’ll review in tomorrow’s post.

The final climb back to the rim the went smoothly, mostly under gloriously temperate skies. Some hikers coming downtrail complimented us on going up the Kaibab instead of Bright Angel, but it’s so much faster that its steepness is worth it for a veteran canyon hiker. In the last half hour of hiking, dark clouds took hold out of nowhere, and it grew so cold I was eager to trail my dad’s slower uphill steps rather than wait for him at the top in the wind. As soon as we got back to the car, a light snow began spattering the windshield. Talk about perfect timing.

As I reluctantly return to the “real” world (or leave it, depending on your point of view), I have a clearer sense of what I need to do to prepare for tackling the JMT this summer. The canyon trip was a good barometer for my hiking fitness, and its steep ups and downs make it particularly relevant for the Muir Trail ( though our packs were lighter than mine will be in July). I certainly don’t have the cardiopulmonary conditioning I should have at this point, but I can tell my knee exercises have been paying off: I didn’t feel any knee pain the entire trip! It was also an opportunity to consider my personal growth in the year since I last came to the park. My father agreed there’s been a tremendous difference.




wild l.a.

Welp, still no permit after consistent effort. This is truly insane, but I’ll just do what I can do. I appreciate everyone’s suggestions. Apparently many people are in my same sad little boat.

Oh well. In the meantime, there’s no use in sitting around. Today I hiked the Griffith Park Northside Loop, a fantastic workout just shy of challenging. The route encompasses 7 miles, 4 peaks, and one abandoned swimming pool. Parts of it were quite rugged—namely the part where I missed the use trail and scrambled down Mt. Chapel like an ignoramus. Other parts were idyllic, descending through fairy staircases, while still others (like those skirting the landfill) sported decidedly inferior scenery. Lots of up and down, nothing too brutal, but fabulous for knee strengthening, and not at all crowded on a Thursday.


Who knew L.A. could look like this?


On my way up Mt. Chapel


I need to come back here on a clear day (yes, they do exist!)


But the haze was cool in its own way. See the observatory?


On top of Mt. Bell.


Alien landing pad on “Taco Mountain?”


The Boys Camp swimming pool, long defunct.


The forgotten stair.


Looking back at the peaks I bagged: Mt. Chapel, Mt. Bell, and Taco Mountain.

By the way, did you know Griffith park’s namesake was named Griffith J. Griffith? That’s pretty incredible.

beyond satisfaction

On my 3.9-mile exploratory walk this morning, I forged a new loop that is destined to be a staple of my base fitness circuit. It turns out I love my new neighborhood even more than I thought. As I wound my way west I was blown away by how beautiful the residential streets were, how green with trees (even as the other side of the country suffers catastrophic snows). Then I turned to the north, where the Hollywood hills rose up like a crown in the middle distance. On my way south once more, I made my way past Melrose art galleries and the trendy juice bars of Larchmont Village. The weather could not have been more suited to walking. Suddenly it hit me that my life was better than it has ever been.

Things can turn around so fast. In November I was miserable. What’s changed? Even before I moved, the medication I’d started taking was beginning to work. Now it’s been seven weeks. But medication isn’t everything. Sticking with my recovery program and making it through the one-year mark has given me a boost too, especially since I’m making better friends on that pathway all the time. But moving into my own place—which I’ve wanted to do for years—kicked everything up a notch. Suddenly I wasn’t just content, I was ecstatic. I could scarcely keep my mouth shut today as I took in my new surroundings, wishing I suddenly had decades to absorb everything around me. To the local women out walking their dogs, I must have looked like a crazy person powering down the sidewalk, muttering, “I love my life. I’m so happy,” in genuine surprise.

I know this bright clean high won’t last forever. It’s another pink cloud, a shock of joy, a celebration of finally, finally being as independent as I’ve wanted to be since I was a small child. Things will level out and challenges are coming. But I can’t remember the last time I wanted to make each day last forever, yet felt so excited to see what happens next.


Living in my new apartment is every bit as satisfying as I expected (especially now that I figured out how to use my phone as a wi-fi hotspot—huzzah!). Somehow it’s both peaceful and thrilling. With a “new” couch and bed as the last pieces of the furniture puzzle, I’m finally phasing out of transition mode and back into regular life. It’s time to get to work.

With a new neighborhood to walk around in, I’ll be enjoying plenty of fresh scenery while my legs get stronger. So far, I’ve mostly been devoting my walks to exploring on foot—locating my new post office, library, supermarket and pharmacy as well as a seemingly endless array of eateries. Not exactly strenuous “training,” but walking is walking. To the west lie treelined residential roads studded with enormous houses—perfect for routine strolls—and a reasonable drive north takes me into the hills where I’ll feel more comfortable strapping on a backpack and getting some real workouts under my hip belt.

Today’s workout, though, consists of thoroughly cleaning my old apartment for the last time. Some serious elbow grease will be needed to scrub off the smudged prints my bare feet left behind on the wall where my desk once stood, and the space behind the fridge is sure to be a horror show. “Leave No Trace” indeed. Despite the guaranteed unpleasantness of the deep clean, it will definitely feel good when it’s complete.

Literally and figuratively, I’m in a good place. Next week comes the moment of truth: time to apply for my JMT permit! Whatever happens, I’ll just do the best I can and keep an open mind. Once I have some sort of permit in the bag, the reality of the undertaking will start to sink in. Bring it.

stepping it up

I need to get a lot more serious about my physical training. The Muir Trail is studded with giant stone steps, and that’s what’s done my knees in both times I’ve done the first section. But there’s still enough time for me to make a big difference in my knee strength. Unfortunately, over the course of the next week I’ll be moving out of my townhouse, which contains a flight of 15 stairs, into a first-floor apartment. Yesterday I went up and down the stairs 50 times with a break between sets of 25, and it felt great (albeit proving just how out of shape I still am). Now I’m kind of sad I didn’t take better advantage of the stairs when I had them in the privacy of my own home. I did use them for step-ups and hip hikes every week or so, but I really could have gotten some climbing simulations in, maybe even with a full pack. I suppose I could still try scaling the stairs of my new building with a pack on, but the neighbors are bound to shoot me some perplexed looks.

Before I have to bid my lovely staircase goodbye, I’m going to try to do a few more rounds of stairway repeats. I also found a promising new knee exercise, and I’ll try to look for some of the secret stairways that abound on the more easterly side of L.A. where I’m headed. I can’t let excuses like convenience get in the way. Anyone who puts convenience first doesn’t belong on the JMT in the first place.

No matter how many trail journals or guidebooks I read or how many documentaries I watch, if I don’t put in some serious legwork I’m doomed to let myself down. In April, I’m going backpacking in the Grand Canyon in with my dad for five days. Between now and then, though, I need to plot out some challenging local day hikes. My favorite hiking buddy is battling chronic illness these days, but I love a good solo dayhike. It’s about carving out the time when “weekends” are a bit of a foreign concept in my work schedule. I’m the only one who is responsible for my preparedness.

back from travels



If you’ve noticed my absence, I’ve been in Bangladesh, where two good friends of mine from school just got married. The trip had been looming for so long, a pillar of my mental calendar, that it’s hard to believe it’s over.

The trip was rewarding, though as difficult as I imagined. I did spend a good portion of it feeling anxious, but it was a shallow anxiety, fretting but not dreading. When I was present in the moment rather than worrying about missing flights or whether I should have brought malaria meds after all, I had a wonderful time. And when some of my major worries did come true—from stomach bugs to seven-hour flight delays—I handled them with aplomb. It was a phenomenal exercise in accepting the things I cannot change, and I did really well. Reconnecting with some of my favorite human on earth and getting outside my comfort zone was worth all the suffering, I’d say.

With Bangladesh behind me, that makes the next adventure on the horizon none other than the Muir Trail. If my handling of this trip was any indication, I’m going to do alright managing logistics and setbacks. The biggest lesson this trip reinforced was that the better prepared I am, the less I’ll have to stress out about and the more enjoyable it will be. Physically, the trip left me depleted, so building my body back up to trail-training shape will take a few weeks. Like so many Americans, I’ll be resolving to work out more in 2014. But for now, the best thing I can do is catch up on much-needed vitamins and sleep.

week 1 workout roundup

I have to do at least one thing every day to prepare my body for the JMT, even if its a get-slammed-into-by-an-SUV kind of day. This was a weak weak intensity-wise, but at least I got out every day except the stormy one.

Sunday: Knee Strength Routine

Monday: 3 mile walk in Beverlywood plus knee routine
Running shoes, no pack. Nothing beats the lovely after-rain air.

Tuesday: Stair Climbs (3 x 10 reps)

Wednesday: 5 mile walk in Beverlywood
Running shoes, no pack. Joyous cleansing rain, but felt twinges in the right knee and left shin.

Thursday: 2 mile walk in Palos Verdes
Testing out new trainers, no pack. Meant to do a longer trip, but plans came up

Friday: 3 mile neighborhood walk as an emergency panic-breaker.
New Brooks shoes, no pack. Spent lots of it on the phone, just generally a bad scene, but I got out of the house and stayed safe, so hurrah for coping skills.

Saturday: 3 mile neighborhood walk,
New Brooks shoes, no pack. Fast paced and hill-oriented since I was low on time

Sunday: 3.8 mile climb up to Griffith Observatory and back from brunch at 54Twenty in Hollywood.
Old Sauconys, no pack. Burning off cookie dough pancakes.

total miles: 16.8