Denali April 2005

Grand Canyon: Kaibab to New Hance Trail
April, 2005

Day One: Rim to Cremation Creek via the South Kaibab Trail (6 miles)

Up before dawn for breakfast and trying to stuff all food, water, and gear into packs. Drive over to the park shuttle and catch the bus to the South Kaibab Trail Head. The sunrise is brilliant and brings some heat into the air, as it is windy and cold to start. Boots tightened for the steep descent. We’re off. First break at Cedar Ridge with huge, open views of the Canyon. Quads and toenails start to feel the strain of the steep descent. The group moves well and we lunch beside the trail about an hour above the Tonto Trail. Several folks pass through our picnic site and think the menu looks pretty good. We reach the junction of the Tonto Trail and leave the “highway” behind making our way through stretches of brittlebush and creosote. We stop just shy of Cremation Canyon at a boulder with a huge overhang and make camp, fix feet, and begin our nightly tradition of “Attack Cribbage.”


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Day Two: Cremation Creek to Lonetree Canyon via the Tonto Trail (4 miles)

The day dawns with light only the Canyon can capture. Did all this stuff really fit in our packs yesterday? Have some breakfast, calculate water consumption, tape some heels and set off to Cremation Canyon. The steep descent and ascent of the first arm wake us up completely-a good thing too-since there desert is alive with color that only a wet winter brings-wild flowers in yellow, white, pink, and purple dot the landscape. At one point, TA looks back to discover that the entire group has mutinied to photograph the numerous flowers. Lonetree Canyon has lots of water and provides an oasis in the desert. Folks have time to enjoy the sun, bathe, read and write in journals. Norm and Marie make a beeline for the redwall and are rewarded with a cosmic experience of the canyon for their efforts. The Grand Canyon frogs sing us to sleep.


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Day Three: Lonetree Canyon to Grapevine Canyon via the Tonto Trail (9 miles)

A big day ahead-many miles of undulating Tonto Plateau terrain. Several side canyons to make our way around and through. Boulder Canyon has water! It is indeed a wet year. The sun gets hot early and makes the miles seem longer than they were yesterday. Bodies have hit maximum lactic acid soreness and feet are tired from their new loads. We stop in the first arm of Grapevine to soak our shirts and utilize evaporative cooling the oppressive heat-just a short ways to go to the granite-encrusted camp of Grapevine. Finding shade, we lie out and marvel in a day well hiked. Folks take dips in the “Jacuzzi” tub down canyon and the rocks are strewn with laundry. The granite beds provide the perfect backdrop for a deep sleep after a big day.


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Day Four: Grapevine Canyon to Hance Creek via the Tonto Trail (10.5 miles)

Huge day…lots of miles and Tonto to cover. The views are stunning as we traverse along the lip of Grapevine Canyon. As we make the turn east at the head of the canyon, we are rewarded with views of the inner gorge and Vishnu Schist. Pictures are a must at the head of Cottonwood Canyon where a large ledge sticks out over the inner gorge. Lunch at Cottonwood and the realization that there is still a long way to go. After lunch, we circumnavigate Horseshoe Mesa and slowly make our way back into Hance Canyon. Bodies drag into camp. A long day.


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Day Five: Hance Creek Layover

Rest day. Sleep in. Pancakes for breakfast. Lots of exploration down Hance Canyon-Norm goes as far as he can go-TA, Marie and Sherry take a dip. Lots of reading, sleeping, and relaxing. Huge rainstorm this night…it NEVER rains in the Grand Canyon and there are many nocturnal adventures in trying to keep the tarps up and gear dry. TA uses natural raingear in the moonlight to ensure the kitchen in still safe given rising creek waters. Will morning ever come?


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Day Six: Hance Creek to Hance Rapid via the Tonto Trail (6.4 miles)

A cold, grey morning. Will it stop raining? Back to bed for a bit. The sun peaks out-let’s pack and go. Stories of the night’s toils are told over and over again. TA looks sheepish. The weather cooperates and only rains while we are hiking. The sun finally beats back the rain for good as we hit Hance Rapid beside the Colorado River. We tuck into the mesquite bushes and all gear gets hung out to dry for the night. We watch rafters navigate Hance Rapid, devour 6 boxes of KD and play cards until late.


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Day Seven: Hance Rapid to the Red Wall via the New Hance Trail (4 miles)

What goes down, must go up! We pack up with efficiency and head up Red Canyon in search of the New Hance Trail-reportedly the hardest trail on the South Rim. Two miles up we stop and fill our water stores at the spring. Now the UP truly begins. Step by step. Breathing in rhythm with steps we move slowly up like a line of ants. A few breaks along the way and we are soon in the Red Wall. Natelle cruises the Red Wall and is thrilled when it’s over before she knew she was even in it. Lunch at the top of the Red Wall and camp just around the corner. A lofty perch for our last night within the canyon walls. Well pitched tarps, more cards and naps and a wonderful closing circle before dropping into sleep for some more Canyon dreams.


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Day Eight: Red Wall to Rim via the New Hance Trail (4 miles)

Another early start-lightest packs yet-we’re heading for the rim. The vegetation changes with each step upward and we are enveloped into the closing wall of Red Canyon. Once again, we are surprised by how quickly we make ground. A break amid huge Ponderosa pines signals we’re almost there. A quick lunch on the ledge in Toroweap and 15 minute later we’ve topped out. The graduation arch of hiking poles frames Lisa as we hum Pomp and Circumstance. Another canyon graduation. We make for the road and TA goes for a run to get the van from the parking area a few miles up the road. Warm showers are a treat and a lovely farewell dinner canyon side that night puts a lovely sheen on the patina of a Grand Adventure.

TA’s Denali Support Team #27 4/9/2005
Happy I Ran Home from Cape Spear Day,

OK, I lied. I didn’t know I was going to have such a philosophical run this morning that would insist that I write to you. If a run demands that I speak, I listen. I played my last game of my season with my Sports Shop teammates last night. It was a solid, hard played game that went end to end on many occasions. The other team scored first. I answered with a bullet from the point. The game pace increased. We were playing with three D. They scored in the opening minutes of the third. I went down and popped one in from the slot via the post. My coach really wanted a hat trick but I couldn’t quite pull it off. I wanted to play a good game for my teammates since I was abandoning them in pursuit of the Grand Canyon and missing the end of season tournament.

We went out as a team for dinner and they surprised me with a gift and card they thoughtfully got me a new synthetic top to wear up the mountain explaining that I could then take each and every one of them up the mountain with me. I was so touched. I’m going to have them all sign the shirt at the big send-off in May. They even managed to sneak two vanilla dips into Don Cherry’s for my dessert! Those two were added to the other eight that people delivered to me this week-I must admit this Vanilla Dip thing could be getting out of hand.

So, in honour of my teammates, I thought this was an appropriate morning to do the ‘Run Home from Cape Spear’ long run. For those of you who might not know, Cape Spear is the most easterly point in North America. It’s where the sun first rises in North America and a place that formerly seemed so far from home. I often take my students out there during the summer during classes and it’s a great place to watch for whales and icebergs (more condolences to those of you who don’t live here). My friend Toni lives in Black Head which is almost out to Cape Spear and I asked her to clock the kilometreage one day she reported the result so I knew it was within my capacity to run home from Cape Spear BUT she cautioned about the hills there are some mighty big hills on the route. So I didn’t really know how it would go and I awoke this morning both excited and nervous.

I was very mindful and deliberate in each step of preparation this morning since I didn’t know how long I’d be on the road. I had a half of a vanilla dip as my pre-run carbo-loading and began the long drive to Cape Spear. I keenly scanned every detail of the road like a hawk circling for prey-depositing information that I could draw from the bank as I ran. I was acutely aware of every change in slope and how deep each valley seemed doubt began to leak into my interstitial spaces would I be able to get up that hill I just drove down? What if I wanted to stop? What if I wanted to walk? I drove on reminding myself of the mountain of evidence to the contrary and of the many options that surround me in each moment.

I parked the Omamobile (that amazing 1988 Chevy Corsica given to me by my Grandmother) in the Cape Spear parking lot and knew I should not hesitate, lest the doubt gremlins catch up. I popped out of the car, set the stopwatch, and began to run. The first 10 minutes of any run are always the hardest for me almost without fail. It’s like my body has to remember, each time how to fire up the extra mice on the treadmill and get my energy systems rolling. This morning was no exception and that difficulty seemed more difficult that usual. Having to start up a very steep hill probably didn’t help. Plodding up this hill prompted me to think about the balance between focusing on the moment and focusing on the big picture (or the big mountain). Having just driven the route I was about to run, I was intensely aware of what I was embarking on and I wasn’t convinced that awareness was a good thing-it seemed to lend a sense of overwhelm to the task but on the other hand, that awareness provided motivation and drive to get there. So with each step up the hill, I vacillated back and forth between the asphalt in front of me and the long road ahead.

My guess is that the first few days on Denali will feel similarly that the climb ahead will feel daunting and impossible, that the mountain will seem huge and impossible to scale, that the doubt gremlins will be better organized that NAPE or CUPE, that I’ll be missing my support team immensely, that I may want to quit before I begin


That I’ll also remember to put one foot in front of the other, that I have trained long and hard, that my reserves and resilience are strong, that each moment is precious and the climb of the mountain began months ago and I’ll walk that knife-edged balance of focus between the immediate moment and the longer term vision.

Once I topped the first hill, my energy systems read the owner’s manual and had begun to work, endorphins began to flood my brain and gentle snow blanketed me in white. My mind turned from deep philosophy to music and a medley of catchy tunes flowed in and out of awareness. I waved to Toni as I passed through Black Head and began the long climb towards the Maddox Cove junction. Ten and one. Ten and one. A lovely rhythm. The moments passed and I was surprised at how the distance and my mindless chatter passed along. Sooner than I expected, I passed the Freshwater Bay trailhead and I began to know deeply that I would complete the run. Since all of my long runs to date had been about running for a set amount of time, it was different to be running for a set distance-though not know how long it would take me to cover it.

The steep drop into Shea Heights jarred every joint in my body and made me question a core belief that I hold about myself-that I hate to go uphill-not so sure about that anymore steep downhill isn’t much fun. By the time I hit Shea Heights, I felt like I was cruising (love those endorphins) and could eagerly run all day. I ran home along the Harbour and hit the stopwatch at the corner of Duckworth and Wood Street. I hadn’t checked the time at all during the run two hours I ran home from Cape Spear in two hours!!!!! I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I must have cheated or something I was expecting 2.5 or three hours. I’ll have to clock the actual distance out there when I retrieve the car but I think it is close to 20 kilometres or another half marathon. Six half marathons in six weeks I could never have imagined that last August when I was running one minute and walking the next. I always wanted to be a runner I guess I could now call myself one adding that to my growing list of identities.

So thank you to my hockey teammates for inspiring my run this morning and for being so solidly behind me. And thank you to all of my support village teammates for all that you do and inspire. A special thanks to whomever of you ends up driving me out to Cape Spear to retrieve the car. 🙂 Enough from me-I need to go work on my slideshow presentation for tomorrow night-drop by if you can TI Murphy Center, 95 Water Street, 7:30.

Catch you whenever I catch you next, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #26 4/8/2005
Happy Last Day of Classes at Memorial University (a big day to celebrate)

Another busy week has passed with many temptations to put several training engagements aside-on some occasions discipline prevailed…on others, it did not! My legs got used to walking lunges and didn’t put up nearly the fight they did a week ago. A few other strength gains in the gym amazed me as well-I guess I haven’t quite plateaued yet. The next five days promise to be insanely, intensely busy so I’m sending off this week’s update a bit early.

And…I actually found someone else to write it for me…

Here’s the article that appeared this week in the Express here in St. John’s. It led the sports section and garnered a headline on the front page. I suspect Oprah will be beating down my door to get an interview with me next. It’s always interesting to see oneself through the eyes of someone else, when I first read the article I thought…’Wow, I’m a wingnut.” My second thought followed immediately…”I’m proud to be a wingnut.” I think it is a thoughtfully written piece and I enjoyed giving the interview. Thanks Steve!

I’m heading off to the Grand Canyon next week and I’ll return to St. John’s on May 5th so I suspect your in-box may be free of me until then…once I return, there is only one more three-week training cycle until I head to the mountain. I hope to have a big raucous send-off sometime during the week of May 23-27.

Take care-catch you in May, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #25 4/4/2005
Happy Daylight Saving Time!

(Who knew there was something to celebrate each and every week)

Walking lunges shaped my week. Walking lunges make everything hurt even your teeth. My new workout program has walking lunges on Mondays and I think I didn’t get my body back until Friday or Saturday. For those of you who might not be familiar with walking lunges…I’ll describe them for you.

Pick up a 30-pound dumbbell in each hand. Go out the door of the gym because a long runway is needed. Take a lunge step forward and touch back knee to ground. Step forward with back leg to 90 degrees and touch other knee to ground. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Begin to feel hamstrings burn. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Begin to feel quads burn. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Begin to feel gluts burn. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Begin to feel hamstrings burn more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Begin to feel quads burn more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Begin to feel gluts burn more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Begin to feel lungs burn. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Rejoice when you reach 30 reps-jump for joy! Not! Jumping is not an option at the moment. Standing barely is…Rest. Catch breath and heartbeat. Repeat the above one more time. Feel your butt hurt all week. Repeat again this morning. Revel in how much lactic acid one can produce in such a short period of time and how much walking lunges can be a metaphor for the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: All of life is suffering.

In this cycle, which is a personalized hybrid between ‘Total Body Transformation” and ‘Hot Point Fitness,” each day has it’s own unique identity: Monday is leg day, Tuesday is hill interval day, Wednesday is buffet day, Thursday is mini long run day, Friday is smorgasboard day, Saturday is rest and nap day and Sunday is way long run day. Given the intense start of the week, I was tired much of the week and had to draw on deep wells of discipline and will to get out of bed many mornings. I’m beginning to feel a bit like a horse to the barn and have had a few thoughts of life post Denali.

The collective fatigue of eight months of hard physical, mental and emotional training is beginning to take its toll. Fortunately, I will soon take my training into the outdoor realm with an eight-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. I’ll put on my backpack for real instead of step class, I’ll get out into the sun and rocks, I’ll breathe deeply in my connection to “The Big Ditch,” and hike 70 kilometers with a heavy pack-sounds like perfect training to me except that it will be warm instead of cold. I think the “break” will be just what the doctor ordered and I’ll come back raring to go for my last three-week training cycle before heading to the mountain.

I’d hoped to run home from Cape Spear for my long run this week but the logistics were too complicated so I just put five of my favorite routes together for the 2 hour 40 minute run…around Quidi Vidi Lake, down to the stadium, around the harbour to Fort Amherst, back along the Harbour to downtown, up to Forest Road again, down to the lake back around to Bannerman Park and home…the weather was complete joy to be out in and I kinda felt like I was cheating by running in such lovely sunny warm weather.

For those of you in St. John’s, watch for The Express on Wednesday of this week-there may be a story in it about the climb and my preparations for it. For those of you who live away from here (my condolences), you can check out The Express web-site after Wednesday. As I talked to Steve Bartlett, the editor of The Express, I was struck once again by how lucky I am to have you all along with me. I know you are each behind me in the immense effort and your presence makes all the difference in my ability to carry on. I am deeply grateful to each of you.

Have a good week, TA

PS. Vanilla Dip

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