Thursday, March 17, 2011

Squirrel versus Mojave Ratler

[This was an event during a Grand Canyon Hike taken with Steve Anthony, Bill Griffin, Andrew Mecom, Jeff Tesney that occurred in the afternoon of July 21, 2010]


   After arriving at Indian Gardens following a hike from Phantom Ranch up Bright Angel Trail we settled into our camping area and rested.  The plan was to visit Plateau Point later in the day but avoid the heat of the afternoon.  Jeff, Bill and Steve used the time to wander the area looking at the sights.  While walking in the area of a small stone storage facility the came upon a squirrel and a snake in a conflict.  Bill came to let me know and I walked down to the site of the conflict directly in front of the wall of the building.  The snake was pink in color and had the unmistakable marking and rattle associated with the Grand Canyon Rattler.
    The squirrel,  appeared to be taunting the rattler by standing on rear legs leaning forward toward the snake and swaying sideways (left and right) as if he was daring the snake to strike.  The rattler eventually would lunge out at the snake only to be met by repeated swipes of sharp little claws which very accurately ripped across the face of the rattler.  This was truly a struggle to remember.  The most verminous deadly snake in north america being scratched and beaten by a lone scruffy looking squirrel repeatedly over a 30 minute time period.  The process of squirrel taunting, rattler lunging, squirrel dodging and scratching continued for more than 20 minutes (the time I spent watching but I missed most of the action).  
    In the final play of the conflict the squirrel backed away from the rattler, went around the back of the rattler that was poised to strike in the forward direction and slapped it from behind!  Clearly the squirrel got the better of the snake who in the end seemed blinded and dazed as it slithered away. 
     Later I spoke with a park ranger and related what we saw.  He shared with me that he and another ranger actually saw two squirrels kill a rattler and drag off the body of the dead rattler. I asked him why squirrels are apparently so deadly in their treatment of rattlers and the ranged speculated that because rattlers have been known to enter squirrel dens to consume the young squirrels that this may be a protective behavior.  That makes sense to me.

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Please note that the views expressed here by me do not  represent the views of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, Archdiocese of Mobile or any  part of the Universal Catholic Church.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Crisis of 2010

[This is an edited version of a log I kept during a Grand Canyon Hike taken with Steve Anthony, Bill Griffin, Andrew Mecom, Jeff Tesney written on July 21 and 22, 2010]

     We were three days and two nights into the canyon. All of us were sore. All of us were tired. The weather had been kind to us (overcast on the hike out from Phantom Ranch to Indian Gardens). "Devil's Corkscrew" was completed with an overcast sky and an occasional cooling breeze. A light rain had fallen (and so we had skipped the waterfall normally visited on the way up).
     Our arrival in Indian Gardens in such temperate weather had given the team the idea that exiting the canyon was within reach. There was optimism. We cooked our dinners for lunch at a campsite in Indian Gardens. Some opined that we could exit the canyon in the evening but I insisted that the reason for coming was to see the spectacular viewing points and Plateau Point was, by some measures, the most spectacular viewing point in the entire Grand Canyon (a straight shot view of the river 2000 feet below and 3500 feet of rising canyon walls above). We went out to Plateau Point for the sunset view.
     We had a second evening meal which Bill declined. He indicated that he felt good but was not hungry.  In fact Bill was eager to go and suggested that we wake up before 3 AM to depart. I countered this suggestion (heard on prior trips) that leaving early just meant extended stays at mile house 3 on the way out (to get the sleep one misses!) I did agree that if they woke up early I would go. To my surprise all but Jeff was up and packing by 1:30 AM. We departed at about 1:50 AM in the dark from Indian Gardens. Bill had started the morning having had no dinner and no breakfast but he did take a collection of electrolyte pills (including salt tablets and Tums).
     During the hike up to Mile House Three Bill became vocal about his discomfort. He became weaker, slowed and was having a hard time keeping up once the steep portion of the trail was entered about 2:30 AM.   I was startled when he indicated that he was becoming "chilled" (early signs of dehydration).  Bill requested we stop numerous times (and I am always happy when someone wants to stop but this concerned me).  I asked him to drink but he was weak. He started rather enthused but was now in a struggle. Just as we saw Mile House Three Bill had us stop and talked of being nauseous. This was alarming to me and Bill himself was cognizant enough to say "These signs are not good."
     We put up at Mile House Three and I announced that we are in no hurry, we are far far ahead of schedule and we can stay as long as it takes for Bill to feel better (plane does not leave Phoenix until tomorrow).  My major concern was dehydration. Bill was showing the classic symptoms of 2nd stage dehydration (nausea).  I told him that we would wait until he urinated before considering departure.   Everyone agreed that we would not depart until Bill was feeling better.
     Time passed and Bill drank the water available. His headache receded and his nausea stabilized. An hour and one half after arriving Bill went to the restroom. He appeared to feel better. We rearranged the packs so that Bill did not have to carry any pack (Steve took Bill's pack, Jeff took his lap pack back and Tim took Steve's pack). The concern was that under load Bill might quickly relapse into his previous state. Such a relapse would delay the team.   In humility Bill accepted the assistance for the good of the team and himself.   It was impressive to see the care of men for each other.  Clearly he was a team player who recognized that together we could do more by helping and working with each other.
     We slowly ascended Bright Angel Trail with more than 30 steep switchbacks. Bill was feeling much better at Mile House 1.5. We gave him back his back pack but all took some items from the pack to lighten his load.   The steep ascent and increasing elevation (above 6000 feet for a team of men tired and sore and used to sea level) and was providing us with considerable challenge.  I kept reminding them of how close we were to the top and that ice cream awaited us.
    All of us emerged healthy and happy. The exhilaration a team feels when finally arriving at the top is always hard to describe. Some of us were teared up. All of us were smiling. Every member of the team was happy and so very grateful we had all made it to the rim in good health. We emerged at the trail head where numerous people ask of what we had done and where we had been. Steve and I left the packs and walked to the Suburban parked at the Back Country Office on the other side of the Parking Lot (it is abouth a 1 mile walk on mostly level ground). I was delighted to share the walk with him (usually most team members wait for me to bring the vehicle back). This was a special group of brothers and we will share this experience the rest of our lives. An experience of challenge and adventure to puts us in touch with who God has made over the years.

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Please note that the views expressed here by me do not  represent the views of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, Archdiocese of Mobile or any  part of the Universal Catholic Church.

Reflection on Hike of 2010

[This is an edited version of a log I kept during a Grand Canyon Hike taken with Steve Anthony, Bill Griffin, Andrew Mecom, Jeff Tesney written in the evening of July 19, 2010]

I spent a lot of time listening to Keith Greene singing "A Clean Heart". the words are from scripture (Psalm 51:10)
Create in me a clean heart oh God
And renew a right spirit in me
Create a clean heart oh God
And renew a right spirit within me
Cast me not away from
thy presence oh Lord
take no thy holy spirit from me
Restore unto me the joy of my salvation and
renew a right spirit within me
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation
and renew a right spirit within me

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Please note that the views expressed here by me do not  represent the views of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, Archdiocese of Mobile or any  part of the Universal Catholic Church.

The Greatest Dinner in the World!

[This is an edited version of a log I kept during a Grand Canyon Hike taken with Steve Anthony, Bill Griffin, Andrew Mecom, Jeff Tesney written on the evening of July 19, 2010]

     It is amazing how physical state influences perception. Our morning of suffering & physical decline were met with rest and refreshment but our hunger was very real. The GORP (good old raisin and peanuts), pumpkin seeds, diced banana slices, power bars and electrolyte solutions failed to satisfy bodies screaming for protein and the chemical constituents needed to repair all the damage inflicted on our muscles, cartilage & joints during the trip down.
     Once the bell rings and you enter the Phantom Ranch Canteen. The meal is a throw back to the days of feeding workers in the Conservation Corps of the 1930's). We said a quick blessing and then dug in. The server brings out all you can eat. There is so much to eat. Cold and crisp salad, cornbread, peas, tea, chocolate cake and coffee. The only hitch is a 45 minute time limit but it is the 45 minutes of the finest meal you would ever want. I particularly enjoyed the stew and salad. You get to eat meals with otherrs from around the country and the world! The stew dinner at Phantom Ranch seems, after a morning on the Kaibab, like the meal of the century (or maybe the millennium) straight from paradise.

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Please note that the views expressed here by me do not  represent the views of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, Archdiocese of Mobile or any  part of the Universal Catholic Church.

The Longest Walk!

[This is an edited version of a log I kept during a Grand Canyon Hike taken with Steve Anthony, Bill Griffin, Andrew Mecom, Jeff Tesney dealing with the morning of July 19, 2010 (but written in the afternoon)]

     Once we had successfully descended the Kaibab (arriving at the river at about 9:15 AM) everyone sat down in what was identified as the "best air conditioned tunnel" in the world." This tunnel emerges above the Colorado river at the start of the "Black Bridge". Sitting in the tunnel hikers walk past and we assure them that if they kick us not to worry because we will not do anything. All of us sitting in the tunnel enjoyed the cool breeze that wafts through the tunnel. Eventually as the sun rises we decide to get up, put packs on and cross the bridge. The sun is very bright, the river is roaring and the temperature is past 100 degrees F even though the humidity is quite high (45% is very high and that is what was reported that morning). Our pace is very slow, limbs stiff, packs heavy and out feet had various ills, I lost both toe nails coming down Kaibab (forgot the hiking poles this year) and others have irritating blisters. All of us have been up since 3:15 AM and none of us has had a real breakfast (water, GORP, power bars and electrolyte drinks substituted for breakfast).
Hungry, tired, sore, hot and suffering is at there peak at this time in the hike. The hike, starting with the first huge big step off the "Black Bridge."..This is the longest walk in the universe. The hike from Black Bridge to Phantom Ranch matches the description of the walk through the Valley of Death read that morning but is now long past our ability to remember.
     Jeff blurts out "Oh my God is that another switchback?" when he sees the bend at the end of the bridge. I assure Jeff that this is the last switchback he will see today. He turns and we return to our silent shuffle toward the end of the bridge.
     We walk past the Anastazi ruins which later Bill shared "I did not even see them wehn we went by them the first time." Conversation had ceased during this walk. We saw a sign "Hot. Tired. Almost expired?" and this may be true but the sing pointed to a sunny very hot looking location30 yards away to a very shallow creek. Going to this relief would have required shedding packs and descending into a ravine for 1 inch deep water. None of us were tempted. to do so.
     The Kaibab shuffle is in full play at this time. Toes pointed in, feet that lift less thna half an inch over small stones and a gate that is very slow and small in reach. Some, due to humidity, have drenched clothing (sweat) and "crotch rot" that is uncomfortable with a "burning" sensation. Every discomfort is insignificant compared to the joint pain we all share (as middle aged hikers tend to have).
     An amazing event occurs when Jeff, in all his discomfort, takes out a camera to photo a deer grazing just off the trail. I looked at Jeff and said "You know a person is a true professional photographer when in his pain and suffering he pulls out a camera to take pictures." Jeff turns, looks at me and says "Thank You". There is no more conversation.
     The walk seems so long and no one is having a conversation. Steve who is leading us along the path to Phantom ranch looks back as if non-verbally signaling the question at a fork in the path "Which way?" as we reach a turn that offers a longer route left with no mule dung or right that is shorter with mule dung I did not hesitate "Go right!" to Steve who was leading all of us up the trail.
     Bill arrives at the corral that has a sign "Welcome to Phantom Ranch" and turns left walking straight toward the sign. He walks straight through the scorpion infested, mule dung (still damp fresh and smelly) but he clearly does not care. I figured if Bill didn't care and no one else appeared to be protesting so I followed them through the corral. We all walk through the dung together and either none of us cared or some of us may not have known.
     We all walk straight to the water jug. No one takes a paper cup and instead we all take turns launching the luke warm water into out open mouths. I point out that all of us are only 30 yards from the Phantom ranch Canteen. Bill Griffin sits on a bench and says "I am not going anywhere. I am just fine right here." I wanted to talk about the smell of the dung and lack of cool refreshment but what good would that have done? Bill needed to stay there for a while, we are in no hurry and there is no law against sitting on benches at Phantom Ranch (and even if there were who would enforce it?) I had no energy to argue and just said "I will meet you at the canteen where they have the best lemonade in the who world." No one even smiled but it may be because I did not say it forcefully enough. Jeff, Any and Bill elect to remain.
     Steve goes with me to the canteen. We take off our packs and Steve seems unsure when asking "Do we take off our packs and leave them out here?" and I state "Yes. Take them off and leave them out here. We are done. The hike is over." [I never asked Steve if this was due to his concern about the rodents and squirrels or if he was concerned about someone lifting the pack to run off 13 miles and 6500 feet up the side of the canyon to the rim].
     We go into the canteen and I buy five lemonades and I make arrangements for us to take our dorm beds. I was thinking when the others arrive they can drink iced lemonade as a reward. Steve asks "Do you want me to bring these back to them?" I told him that would be very generous of him. I als told him that refills are only a dollar if they retian the cup. Steve returned to the dung yard. Bill Griffin later remembered how great it was getting that cold lemonade. I was so impressed with Steve Athony. He put aside his own suffering to help his friends by shuffling back to them with lemonade and the message "Your dorm room and bed is ready and waiting for you".
     Sometimes when things are tough, as they are on this hike, you really get to see the true character of the people you bring. Steve displayed unusual character and a love for brothers rarely witnessed. This longest walk of suffering ended with a voctory of goodness and kindness of one man for another.
    This goodness and kindness shall follow these men all the days of their lives. Why? I am certain that the Lord is their shepherd! The rise up to lay in cold refreshing pools of water of Bright Angel Creek, they lay down in soft beds right when they needed too. The Lord knows their needs. The morning is in complete contrast to the afternoon. By that afternoon the Lord has restored us all.

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Please note that the views expressed here by me do not  represent the views of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, Archdiocese of Mobile or any  part of the Universal Catholic Church.

The Bus! Stop the Bus!

[This is an edited version of a log I kept during a Grand Canyon Hike taken with Steve Anthony, Bill Griffin, Andrew Mecom, Jeff Tesney dealing with the morning of July 19, 2010 (written that afternoon)]

     I was aware of how important it was that our trail team of middle aged men leave at the earlies possible time. The heat of the Kaibab Trail in July is infamous and would be a significant challenge in addition to the difficult terrain, lack of water, elevation change and length of the hike. I made the importance of leaving early paramount by explaining the challenges of that first day hike (down the South Kaibab) to everyone (repeatedly). The entire team was focused on early departure. 
    I remembered the exchange with the young Ranger at the Back Country Office (the day before on July 18) because of the importance of getting us the the South Kaibab Trail Head at the earliest possible time.  We waited at the bus stop but at 3:55 AM I saw no evidence of the bus and began to get nervous. I told Steve to get the rental car (actually an SUV) because we might possibly need to drive to the Back Country Office to catch the bus. He went to the Suburban and turned it on. The headlights came and Steve started inching the Suburban up to a closer parking space.
    Suddenly we saw the bus coming down the hill at a very quick pace. I called out to Steve "Park it! The bus is coming!" Steve parked the Suburban. Bill began quickly picking up packs with me. Jeff had his pack on and was standing at the curve. Steve turned off the light and the car and opened the door to exit the vehicle. The bus did not even slow. Jeff even stepped off the curb and the bus swerved left to avoid him. In fact it appeared to speed up as it headed for the turn at the bottom of the hill. While the bus was apparently passing us by Jeff, Bill and I were calling out "Heh...STOP!. You have hikers here!" while in clear view under the shining street lights. The bus actually accelerated away from the turn. I was stunned!
    The bus had some people in it (possibly 5). We later found out that people in the bus were calling out to the driver that there were hikers there (those hikers were us) and to stop for them. The driver, according to reports, said "They are not suppose to be there. I am not stopping."
    Steve, who had not even made it completely out of the Suburban, quickly drove the Suburban up to the stop and all of us rapidly threw our backpacks, equipment and water bottles into the Suburban. One water bottle fell beneath the vehicle. Precious seconds ticked away as Jeff called out to pull up the Suburban so we could get the bottle. Doors still open, vehicle rolling forward, I saw the water bottle and tossed it in the vehicle as we drove away quickly in the direction that we had seen the bus go.
     Steve had never been to the Back Country Office and so he had to respond, in the dark of night, to immediate commands of "left", "right", "straight" commands whenever we had multiple choices of dark streets to go down. The bus was out of sight. Steve even asked me "Do you know where we are going? Do you know the way?" and my response was "Well the roads have changed due to construction so I am just providing the best guesses I can."
     Amazingly we arrived at the parking lot just as the bus arrived to the front of the Back Country Office (catching up to it). We took our packs out quickly from the Suburban and jogged to the bus, which thankfully, was delayed by numbers of day hikers loading the bus (along with the pack carrying back country hikers). This provided Steve with time to park the Suburban nearby (meaning a longer hike to get the vehicle after the hike but our immediate concern was making the bus).
    We loaded the bus last. Bill was standing in front of and outside the bus as Jeff and Tim entered. Jeff stopped, glared at the driver, and identified us as the hikers he had not picked up and stated his displeasure that it wasn't right that he (the bus driver) would leave us and not pick us up. The bus driver responded "You were not suppose to be at that bus stop." I informed the driver that the Ranger had assured me that the bus was going to pick up hikers there due to Bright Angel road construction. The bus driver responded "Well the Ranger was wrong." I then stated "You still did not need to leave us there. You could have stopped. There is a person parking the car could you please wait for him?" Bill remained in front of the bus for fear the driver would decide to leave Steve behind.
    I continued conversing with the bus driver with the aim of delaying any impending departure. I told the bus driver how important it was for us to catch the earliest possible bus to the trail head. The driver no longer conversed. Jeff continued to glare at him, Bill continued to stand in front of the bus and Steve made it to the bus.
    "We caught the bus and this was a bullet dodged. Thank the Lord!" were the exact words in my log.

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Please note that the views expressed here by me do not  represent the views of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, Archdiocese of Mobile or any  part of the Universal Catholic Church.

The Reading of Hike 2010

[This is an edited version of a log I kept during a Grand Canyon Hike taken with Steve Anthony, Bill Griffin, Andrew Mecom, Jeff Tesney on the morning of July 19, 2010]

   While waiting for the bus (3:50 AM) I read from my notebook the scripture that described well the journey we were about to take (with allusions to desert experiences):

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want
He leads me lie down in green pastures
He leads me beside still water
He restores my soul and guides my path
in righteousness for his namesake
Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever and ever
Though I walk through the valley of death
I will no fear for thou art with me
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me
Thy furnishes the table before me
In the presence of my enemies
Thou annointest my head with oil
My cup overflows
Surely goodness and loving kindness
shall follow me all the days of my life.


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Please note that the views expressed here by me do not  represent the views of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, Archdiocese of Mobile or any  part of the Universal Catholic Church.

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