Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mt. Whitney Portal Pancakes. Bet you can't eat one.

In the spirit of holiday eating, I thought it appropriate to write a post about one of the most glorious food items known to man...the Whitney Portal Pancake.  These behemoth pancakes are available only at the Mt. Whitney Portal Store, located 13 miles east of Lone Pine, CA.  The Mt. Whitney Portal is the most popular (and closest) starting point for climbing Mt. Whitney (elev. 14,292ft) as well as for heading north on the John Muir trail.

The pancake itself is about 2 inches thick and infused with cinnamon and some other ingredients no one in the Portal Store kitchen seems to be able to remember (riiiight).  At any rate, they are truly delicious and make a fantastic meal after a summit attempt or several weeks in the back country.

My wife and I managed to finish about half of one together, which in itself felt impressive. The remains made a great trail snack when we hiked up to Lone Pine lake later that day.  Despite my feeling of accomplishment, I once meet an elderly gentleman at the Portal Store who weighed about 125 pounds. He was telling us about how he had just returned from climbing the Mountaineer's Route (The harder, more technical of the 2 most popular summit routes) in a single day.  While the story was impressive, it was far from unheard of.  However, what he did next was; He sat down and ate two portal pancakes in about 10 minutes.  I asked Doug, one of the store owners, if he had ever seen anyone do that before.  He claimed maybe only a dozen or so people he knew of had done it, but wasn't sure.  I honestly think that was more impressive than summiting the mountain.

The world famous Whitney Portal pancakes. Few mortals can eat these alone, only together can they be conquered.
Photo: Dan Norgan

Unfortunately, the Portal Store is only open in the summer months, so you wont be able to load up on these bad boys for a holiday breakfast.  But rest assured, come May the store will be open and churning out these babies for those who dare to try them.  Any at any rate, its a great excuse to go to one of the truly great places in California, the Whitney Portal.  Hope to see you on the slopes of Mt. Whitney this year,I cant wait.

Using my head for scale.  There are 3 or 4 paper plates underneath there supporting it and it still spills over.
Photo: Robyn Norgan 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

As it turns out, the Grand Canyon doesn't suck (Part Deux).

Recently, I posted about an article I had read that claimed the Grand Canyon was over-rated as a tourist attraction.  I felt that the article really missed the mark and decided to compare it to my experiences there. This is part two to that post and covers the second of two day hikes. If you missed part one you can read it here.

For our second day hike, we decided to try out the Bright Angel Trail.  This trail leaves directly from the South Rim Village hotels.  I was told it was the most common hike taken by unprepared tourists; owing to its proximity to the bus stops as well as the deceptively gradual down slope at the beginning.  The day was slightly warmer than the previous day, but there were still threatening rain clouds and quite a bit of wind blowing.  However, once we descended below the rim, the wind was completely absent and the temperature quite, nice.

After the initial few switchbacks, the amount of tourist strollers dropped off considerably.  The trail began to make a series of steep cuts back into a narrow box canyon which made for a considerably more claustrophobic experience compared to the wide open views we had been having up to this point.

View up the throat of the canyon.
Photo: Dan Norgan

View out of the narrow canyon as the trail descends.
Photo: Dan Norgan

The initial switchbacks were pretty short; at times only 100 meters or so before it switched again.  As we continued to descend, the canyon gradually widened and wound all the way out to the canyon walls at times.  The climber in me couldn't help but inspect some rather impressive looking cracks.

Body width crack?  No big deal.
Photo: Robyn Norgan

The switchbacks continued on for nearly 2 more miles until we reached the rest house situated above the final shelf below the valley floor.  We had decided earlier that this would be our turn around for the day and so decided to have some lunch and enjoy the views.  The rest house was a squat open sided structure that looked like it had been around for quite some time.  I would have hated to be the one to haul the timber down for the roof!

Rest House...Probably a lot more needed when its hot.
Photo: Dan Norgan

We sat down on a small overlook near the shack and were treated to some stormy views of the canyon.  Once again, the off season visit paid off since most people only see bright sunny days.  We were joined by some small critters who seemed to be all too familiar with humans.

The cooler weather brought out some fearless wildlife to join us for lunch.
Photo: Robyn Norgan

We couldn't have asked for a nicer view to eat lunch.  Too bad most people never see this.  The silence was quite impressive.

Lunch with a view
Photo: Dan Norgan

The rain finally broke.  We took this as a sign to head out.
Photo: Robyn Norgan

Time to go.
Photo: Robyn Norgan

It didn't seem that far coming down, did it?
Photo: Dan Norgan

Once again, the inevitable 'mountaineering in reverse' effect hit us on the way up.  Unfortunately, this climb was tougher as we were still tired from the day before. About the time we were nearing the rim again, the sun broke out.  The colors in the afternoon were just stunning.  Mix it in with the occasional rain storm and it was spectacular indeed.

Afternoon color.  A nice change from the gray.
Photo: Robyn Norgan

More clouds coming...
Photo: Robyn Norgan

Parting views of the canyon.
Photo: Robyn Norgan

Robyn surveying the abyss
Photo: Dan Norgan

The Grand Canyon is truly an amazing place to visit.  I can imagine in the heat of summer it can be a somewhat different experience, but in the cooler months it is excellent.  I always enjoy getting out in places like this to see the less taken trails where the average tourist never ventures.  This treats you to views you will never see on a post card, and can only really experience for yourself.  If you are looking for a great adventure, I highly recommend visiting the Grand Canyon (when its cool)...it definitely doesn't suck!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Ideal Loadout for Long Day Hikes

I've been asked by several people recently what my go-to setup is for day hiking.  My standard response to that type of question is, "It depends". 

All irony aside, it really does depend on a number of factors including: weather, trail profile, location and whether I'm running solo or with someone else.

Over the years, I have found that my preferred load has evolved from a spartan one to a much more prepared and versatile gear load out.  The benefit of this is that it allows me to hike solo with more comfort but also with the piece of mind of being ready to tackle anything I run into.  I generally try and take enough that i could spend 24 hours on trail if required.  If the weather is particularly threatening I will usually bring some shelter to bivouac if required.

The most recent addition to my gear is the Deuter Futura 32 pack.  I chose this pack to replace an aging Solomon adventure racing pack that has seen 10+ years of use and has more holes than it has memories at this point.  I chose the Futura 32 based on its tall, slender design which gives me lots of options for balancing heavy and light gear to obtain a comfortable load.  I really don't care for the larger single compartment packs that end up with 1 bulbous clump of gear...they are just too hard to set up comfortably.

Deuter Futura 32 loaded up for a long hike.

 With the new pack out of the way, the essential day hike gear usually includes:
  • 1/2 Liter of water per hour of hike +1 for safety.  (1L per hour if its hot)
  • 200 calories of food per hour.  This is usually a mix of carbs and fats with some chocolate thrown in for variety.  Also great for survival in a pinch.
  • 2 lights
  • Knife
  • First aid kit (with blister pads)
  • Map
  • Compass
  • extra socks
  • Rain gear (weather dependent)
  • 50ft Paracord
  • Trekking poles
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • sunglasses
  • fire starter +lighter
  • TP 
  • 2x large plastic bag
  • camera (pics or it didnt happen)
  • Money (bribery solves everything)
  • ID

Trekking poles complete the load out and save energy and the knees!
Beyond this basic load out I tend to add things here and there as the situation requires.  One thing I no longer leave home without is trekking poles.  I used to think they weren't really necessary but have since found them essential for saving energy and my knees on long hikes...especially when there is significant climbing.

With a set up like this there are very few adventures you cant handle.  Hopefully this will give you a good starting point to building your own preferred load out. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

As it turns out, the Grand Canyon doesn't suck

Today my wife sent me this article from the Huffington Post boldly proclaiming that the Grand Canyon is one of the 25 most over-rated locations on Earth.  For reference here is the section specifically about the canyon...

How do you miss it?  Its rather...large.

From the sound of it the reviewer never actually left their car or at the very least walked the 50 feet or so from the parking lot to the South Rim where some of the most popular overlook sites are.  Only in America would it be considered impossible to actually walk down into the canyon.  No, you instead can only ride down on the back of some poor overworked mule.

The express route to the canyon floor

I, however know for a fact that Canyon is not over-rated and is likely one of the greatest places on Earth.  Granted, it has its touristy elements; the cliche rim hotels and wheelchair (or mobility scooter) accessible viewing decks are not exactly a national treasure.  But if you take the time to descend even a mile or so into the Canyon, by mule or preferably on foot, you will find one of the most spectacular places on Earth.

How much hiking you will be able (or want) to do depends heavily on the time of year you visit.  Late spring through fall is notoriously hot and will make hiking much more physically demanding and require a much higher level of preparedness.  My wife was wise enough to plan a trip for us in May, which is right on the edge of when it starts to warm up.  We were lucky enough to get cool weather and a somewhat significant amount of rain.  This allowed us to make 2 long (10+ mile) descents into the Canyon that were overall quite pleasant.

DAY 1: South Kaibab Trail

The first day, we chose to hike the harder South Kaibab trail.  The morning dawned with a light drizzle falling and generally cool, windy conditions.  We headed off with the plan to turn around at Skeleton Point,  which overlooks the deepest portion of the canyon and the Colorado River.

I quickly discovered evidence of the aforementioned mules.
Photo: Robyn Norgan

We got hit a few times with rain showers on the way down but were at the turn around by early afternoon.  The clouds made for a generally moody and beautiful desert vista.  Its not often you get to take photos of rain clouds in the desert.

Rain clouds threatening
Photo: Robyn Norgan
By the time we made the turn around at Skeleton point,  it was early afternoon.  Now the funny thing about hiking in the Grand Canyon is that is basically mountaineering in reverse.  You feel great for the first half but then you are faced with the harsh reality of the leg crushing climb you just sprinted down.
Pushing on to Skeleton Point
Photo: Robyn Norgan

We stopped for a bit to to admire the Colorado river below.  We briefly entertained the thought of going all the way but we decided otherwise and began our climb back to the rim.

The Colorado River far below

As the trail got steeper, the punishment increased.  Our quick pace from early in the day quickly dwindled to an outright slog. 

I've made a huge mistake!

Somehow, on the way up we managed to look away from our feet and grab a few photos.  The late afternoon haze made for some amazing filter effects.

West Along the Canyon
Photo: Robyn Norgan

The last 2 miles out are by far the steepest and consist of endless trail steps either carved into the rock or meticulously laid by the trail builders.  As any hiker knows, you will soon come to curse the foul individuals who laid these steps.  Steps intended only to cause you extra torment as you slog along.

The Sun Poking out
Photo: Robyn Norgan
We finally made the rim.  The round trip took around 10 hours and was one of the greatest hikes of my life.  This first day hike showed just how beautiful, and savage the Canyon can be.

Photo: Robyn Norgan

 I will cover the second day in an upcoming located Here