Sunday, November 29, 2009

Backpacking Zion National Park in October 2009

Sunset from my camp atop The East Rim Plateau

Zion Canyon's from my West Rim Camp Site

The West Rim Trail ascending up to Angel's Landing

Me at my West Rim camp Site

The view up-canyon from Angel's Landing

On the way up the West Rim Trail

When I decided to backpack for two weeks in the Sierras during the month of October, I knew I was taking a weather risk. Any storm that comes through those mountains in October would be snow storms that would make hiking difficult to prohibitive. So, I had a plan “B” in place before I left for the Sierras, which was to head for the trails of Zion National Park. I had read that Zion was a fabulous place to backpack in October. After spending a serendipitous week in the Sierras my greatest fears materialized and the weather took a turn for the worse. It was time to pack up and head for Zion.

The drive from the Sierras to Zion was long - an overnight jaunt across the Nevada Desert - but I arrived with an eager heart to hit the trail again and continue my 2009 backpacking adventure. But, the thrill of my Sierra adventure was gone. Zion was my backup plan and not to be confused with the best of the best - the beloved Sierras! After all, this was plan “B”. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the wonders Zion had to offer the wilderness wanderer. Armed with a good map and several days to explore Zion, I quickly made a plan to see and experience the best that the Park had to offer. The plan was to hike out of the Zion Canyon up to the west rim of the canyon, then back down to the canyon floor, and then up to the east rim of the canyon to experience the other side of the Park. I set out for the West Rim Trail Head at around 11AM, after getting my permit at the visitor center. I took a shuttle bus to the trail head, which is the only transportation allowable in the Park. As I started out on the trail, it wasn’t but a few hundred yards before a steep zig-zagging ascent took me up and over the walls of the canyon. The trails that are accessible to day hiking are paved, since the crowds hiking them are large. The trails ascending up out of the canyon are spectacularly built and don’t give the appearance of over use. These trails had to be carefully blasted out of the sand stone cliffs in order to build them. I marveled at both the engineering of the trail and the geography of this place. Along the West Rim Trail the day hiker’s destination is Angel’s Landing; a pinnacle outcropping from the cliffs of the canyon just a couple of miles from the trail head. To get to Angel’s Landing the would be tourist leaves the West Rim Trail and climbs a knife’s edge access trail to Angel's Landing. A little scary, but plenty of safety precautions were in place, such as hand railing and steps cut in to the rock. It’s one of those experiences you don’t want to miss when coming to Zion. It's the best way to view the glories of the remarkable Zion Canyon. But, my destination was the canyon rim and once I passed Angel's Landing the throngs of people were left behind. In my estimation the scenery just kept getting better and better. The entire climb to the west rim was an arduous ascent of over 4000 feet in 6 miles. Once I got to the rim, I found my designated camp site and set up my tent with a glorious view of the canyon below. I then explored the entire west rim for the rest of the day. The rim trail skirts the edge of a massive and delosolate plateau, affording the hiker a constant view of Zion Canyon and it's appendage canyons. It was a spectacular sight. I kept thinking how different this place was in comparison with the Sierras, yet how equally wondrous. One of the stark differences between the two landscapes is water! In the Sierras there is a stream, river, or lake at nearly every bend in the trail. But Zion is a desert. There was only one water source on this entire trail and it was a little trickling rivulet of water serving the entire plateau, shared by hikers and animals alike. My camp site happened to be very close to the spring, so at dusk I sat quietly and watched the deer come down a ridge high on the plateau to access the spring that we all had to share. If I were a hunter it would been a shooting gallery, but I was pleased to observe the joy of wild animals anticipating their one chance at water that day.

The next day I descended back to Zion Canyon and got on the shuttle bus once again to head up the canyon one mile to access the next trail head – the East Rim Trail. The first couple of miles were just like the West Rim Trail, crowded with people ascending to a view point high above the canyon. Once I passed the view point the trail was completely empty. I didn’t see a person again until I came back to this point on the trail the next day. This was a more difficult trail than the West Rim Trail, but, the views were stunning and the experience felt a bit more, “wild” on this side of the canyon. The climb was similar, with another 4000 plus foot elevation gain over 6 miles, but it was again worth it to get up on top of the world. Once on the plateau of the East Rim I headed for the one and only spring to fill my water container. Just like the west plateau, there was only one water source for miles and miles around. When I was filling my container from the trickling spring, I had to do it while looking at a sign that said, “Beware of Mountain Lions”! Again, I was sharing a water source with all the wildlife in that area! I could only imagine a mountain lion or two watching me from the surrounding forest as I filled my container. On the east rim, the National Park allows backpackers to camp anywhere they desire. So, I spent some time finding the high point of the plateau to camp, which would provide me with the best opportunity for a great sunset and sunrise view. I have to admit, the whole experience was a bit eerie. I had not seen anyone since passing the view point many miles back. At times I felt so alone and vulnerable. But, the wildness and expansive terrain of this place kept me in such awe that I had little time to contemplate my aloneness. The next morning I headed back to the canyon floor and then on to Portland, having had my wilderness fix satisfied – but only for a little while!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meet Our New Male Cria!

This is our new llama cria that was born a few weeks ago. We just took these pictures today, but you can see birthing pictures in the slide show in the right hand column. Artemis is our first male cria since Columbus, who we lost over a year ago to a tragic accident. We've had several females born since Columbus and we like the females because they become breeders. However, the males are just as important, because they become the gelded packers that we are trying to breed. The strategy is that you keep the ladies bare foot and pregnant and the males on the trail doing all the packing. It turns out that Artemis is the name of a female godess; the daughter of Zeus. Looks like we might have to change his name. Or, perhaps Artie will do? This little guy was actually an unexpected and pleasant surprise. We did not purposely breed his mother, Rainy. And, the very day he was born the vet did a herd check on my llamas and he didn't even notice she was pregnant! Within just a few hours after he left she delivered. It turns out that Pam was heading out to round up some loose llamas when Rainy was lying down giving birth. The little guy didn't want to come out, so Pam gave him a little help by pulling on his legs! (see the pics in the slide show) So far, little Artie is looking like a great prospect for a packer. We won't really know for a year or so, but we like what we see, so far!

The Origin of "Llama Walker"

In October I had the good fortune to meet up with two experienced long distance hikers, Hippie Long Stockings and Wandering Hippie. No, those are not their real names, but names given to them during the course of their 7000 miles of hiking. Their real names are Kellie and Teresa, respectively. Although, my experience with them tells me that they identify with their trail names more than their birth names. Both have done the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, so you can imagine how they feel about trail life and hiking; they live for it! I went to the Sierras in October to hike sections of the John Muir Trail as a consolation for not being able to hike the entire trail as I had planned to do with Tom Willard. My first night out, I camped just below Bishop Pass, where it snowed 4". It was still snowing in the morning and I had no recourse but to pack up and get down from the high country till the weather broke. As I was going down I noticed from the tracks in the snow that there were two other crazy people out in that weather. And, when I got down to the trail head I met them, two wild and free spirited women! They didn't have a vehicle because they were hiking the whole John Muir Trail, so there car was at the end of the trail, one hundred miles away. I wound up driving them all the way to Mammoth Lakes where their car was parked to start the hike. We wound up spending nearly a week together. First, we went to Death Valley just to get out of the weather. We then came back to the Sierras and hiked 45 miles in the Sierras together before going our separate ways. I asked the Hippies if they could give me a trail name by the end of our time together. They said that it had to come naturally, so if something came to mind, they would tell me. Well, after a few days of hiking together they named me "Llama Walker". Of course, it had everything to do with my conversation with them about my ownership and experience with llamas. At first, I didn't take to the name, but soon it stuck in my mind and now I can't see any other possible name! When I first got in to llamas, I never thought of myself as being so identified with them, but almost everyone who knows me wants to talk about my llamas when they learn that I own them and use them for packing. So, if you see me on the trail some day, just call me, "Llama Walker". Thank you, Hippie Longstockings and Wandering Hippie!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Glacier & Aspen Go On Their First Hike!

We took our new baby llamas out for their first hike, today. Glacier and Aspen just turned 6 months and are now weaned. It's time to get them out on the trail to show them what llama life is all about. We decided to take them on a 5 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail where it intersects with Cascade Locks in the Columbia Gorge. It was a drizzly day, but comfortable and pleasant for a hike. Aside from a little nervousness around the running creek, they performed wonderfully. You don't want to load up a pack on a six month old llama, but you also want them to get the feel of a pack when they're beginning their training. So, we put a light weight kids saddle on their back and it worked just fine. At just six months Glacier and Aspen are tall, energetic, athletic, and eager to get in line with the other llamas. They are little balls of nerves right now, but as they get used to the trail, creek crossings, and the wild forest, they will be incredible packers and breeders.