The Subway: Nature 1, Troy 0

In one of my rare fits of sanity, I decided I was in no condition to handle the hike through the Subway.  This hike is the kind of hike where you take a map, knowing there’s not a lot of trail to follow and it’s long with lots of scrambling over obstacles, swimming in very cold water and some minor rappelling. Since my hike through the Narrows left me with crystal clear knowledge of every single muscle connection between my toes and scalp, I did not think I could pull myself up to anything other than a bar. The ever-intrepid Troy went alone.

Scenery along Kolob Terrace Road on the way to Wildcat Canyon

I agreed I would pick Troy up from the bottom of the route and I spent a pleasant morning strolling the red rock desert of southwestern Utah.  Zion is of course named after the promised land the Mormons thought they had found. I did not see a single Mormon, but I would bet that the European to American ratio is something like 8 to 1 right now. Those Germans are serious hikers and they are here in droves. I spent a fun day playing the game “gay or European hipster?” (they are hard to differentiate but it’s all in the shoe choices) and then it was time to go get Troy.

I arrived at the Left Fork Trailhead and waited. I brought my Kindle and read. I read a lot. Hours went by and I finished the Beautiful and the Damned which I had always meant to read and never quite did. The park ranger came by. We chatted. Troy is largely invincible in the woods so I have never been all that concerned, but in the back of my mind was the fear I might have to go down the trail and look for him. It’s 400 feet straight down at the end of the trail.  Right around 6 pm as I am thinking about going to look for him, up hobbles Troy and announces he has broken his ankle.  No matter what Troy says, I am an awesome wife. I brought him dry clothes to change into, I got the shoe off his mangled foot and we set off for the hospital.

Hurricane Utah is a small town with a clinic-type hospital and they got him in and out within 2 hours. Had this been a Nashville hospital, we’d probably still be there. Troy did not in fact break his ankle, but he sprained the crap out of it and it is now a rainbow of pretty colors.

I think the Scorpion tattoo adds a lot of visual interest to his bruising

Troy claims to have defeated nature plenty of times, but not this trip. Nature 1, Troy 0.

The Subway

 

Zion National Park: How not to die in the Narrows

Zion is world-famous for several hikes, but none is more famous than the Narrows. Basically, take a fast-moving river in a very narrow slot canyon and take intrepid people who want to hike in the river and you have the famous Narrows hike. People die in this place on occasion  as there is just no where to go in the event of a flash flood. The walls are a thousand feet of towering, smooth, sandstone cliffs and barring Spiderman- like abilities, you’re pretty much screwed if you get caught here in a flood. Why do it? Because it’s awesomely beautiful.

Gorgeous, isn't it?

Being married to a man with a butt smaller than mine is bound to make me look bad in a place like this. This is a hard hike. The water is cold (yesterday, a balmy 58 degrees) and it’s running fast (68 cfs) and you are slogging upstream against a current. If you have a brain in your head, you either rent appropriate canyoneering shoes and neoprene socks  (Zion Adventure Company rents both for about $20) along with a decent hiking stick or you own your own gear and you use it. Plenty of morons get in the water and decide to head upstream barefoot or in open-toed sandals or flip-flops. This is a terrible idea. The rocks are slippery and the footing is uncertain, and thousands of pounds of rushing water are trying to topple you. Not wearing appropriate gear can be dangerous. I know this because I broke my neck here in 2009.

In May of 2009, this rock broke my neck.

In 2009,  I decided to wear a pair of water shoes from Merrell in the river. It seemed reasonable, but these are not canyoneering shoes and they lacked the grip of better shoes designed for canyoneering. The flow rate was also almost 140 cfs which is about as high as it can be and the park will allow you to get in the water. I lost my balance in the water and in a freak accident, ended up slammed against the rock with a broken neck and a blown disc. I was about 1 1/2 miles into the canyon at that point. If you hike in, you have to be able to hike out. I did not realize I had broken anything and thought I had a shoulder injury. Not quite.  By the time it was over, I had a bone graft, several screws and a titanium plate in my neck and a permanent loss of strength in the right arm from nerve damage. This is unfun. Don’t do what I did. I got injured because I was careless and because I decided I did not want to wear the less comfortable 5-10s in the river. The only redeeming thing from the experience is no one can question my toughness as I hiked my bad self out of the canyon under my own power  (I will admit it is a damned lucky thing I’m not paralyzed).

If you do this hike, you will see a ton of Europeans, some of them hilariously over-outfitted. (Drysuits in August are not necessary and you will have sweat running down your ass crack in ways you did not anticipate). You will also see some girls in bikinis far up river in very cold water. They are Swedish or Danish and think 55 degrees is toasty. Pay no attention to these blonde glamazons as they are not of this earth and they exist to make you swear to hit the crosstrainer daily while subsisting on lettuce and air. If you slog up river far enough, you will be rewarded with this:

A much better version of Wall Street

Expect to get wet (chest deep in a few spots) but most of it is hard in the water and trying not to fall over hiking.

Troy in the river

This is a bucket list kind of place so unless you are in a wheelchair or dragging oxygen, you should do this before you die.

Beating your kids in national parks

As always, B2BNL is always on top of the National Park deaths.  If I don’t post it fast enough, one of you is always thoughtful and sends me an email asking why I haven’t posted the latest dead guy.

Today, we have a new twist for bad things in national parks. Apparently, some sick  jerk took his young grandkids to Grand Canyon and then force-marched them without water for 20 miles and beat them when they dropped in 108 degree heat. In court, he said it was for their own good because they were “overweight”. Here’s a newsflash: how about some simple exercise and maybe no Twinkies?  I’m just sayin’ that rather than a brutal 20 mile march up Bright Angel trail, maybe taking the grandkids out for a nice game of touch football and then no fast food might be a better idea.

I don’t have kids (unless you count the dogs and Troy), and I do confess that there have been plenty of times when I wanted to kill someone else’s child in a public place, but the Grand Canyon is not the place to take out of shape fat kids with no water on a hot day hike.  Out of shape people without water die in this park. One out of shape guy without water dropped dead on Bright Angel trail earlier this week.  This is not for sissies:

I stole this picture from Wikipedia because I have no business being on this trail taking pictures in my current condition.

If you want to toughen up someone and get them in shape, get a crosstrainer, put them on it and yell at them.  Don’t take them to a national park and torture them.

I think he is trying to kill me for sure

We are heading to Zion National Park in less than two weeks so that I can attempt to finish the hike that quite literally broke my neck. This is where I broke my neck in 2009:

Canyons are excellent places to kill unwanted spouses

Because my stubborn streak exceeds my intelligence, I am going back to do it again, this time (hopefully) without all the injuries. Currently, there is very little Troy can say to me because I hiked out of a canyon under my own power with a badly-damaged neck. Any time he complains about pain, I just tell him, “Yeah, but I hiked out of the Narrows with a broken neck.” This tends to quiet him down.

Just some cool scenery (Emerald Pools) where Troy won’t try to kill me because there will be witnesses.

Of course, Troy is driving out alone because a) I hate driving 26 hours anywhere and b) he is going to take his time on the way back so he can attempt to kill himself  do Blue John Canyon. For those not in the know, this is the remote Utah canyon in which Aron Ralston cut off his own hand to free himself. I am flying out to Vegas and will meet up with him. Troy booked my flight. On 9/11. I told you he was trying to kill me.

The Grim Reaper Report: National Park deaths

I have noticed an uptick in people who find this blog with searches for people who die in various national parks or as dinner for a shark or grizzly bear. Y’all are clearly a morbid, bloodthirsty bunch. This morning, these searches found this blog:

Searching for dead people

As a public service, for those of you with morbid curiosity wasting time looking for information on people who have died in National Parks and how, here’s where you need to go:

Yellowstone deaths

This bear in Yellowstone did not eat us as we stayed a long way away. If you surprise a bear with cubs, you can expect to be dispatched to the hereafter. Note the grainy picture which denotes long distance away from danger.

 

Yosemite deaths

3 people just died here. We didn't, but we stayed behind the rails.

Zion National Park deaths

This is why people die on Angel's Landing. It's 1200 feet off to one side and 900 on the other. I'm not insane enough to climb this, but Troy was. He's alive.

Grand Canyon deaths

Death Valley National Park deaths

Mount Ranier National Park deaths

Great Smoky Mountain National Park deaths/statistics

People die in Great Smoky Mountain National Park every year. Mostly because they are stupid. Waterfalls are dangerous.

 

Acadia National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Channel Islands National Park

Biscayne National Park

The water at Biscayne National Park is crystal clear. You can drown here or be eaten by a shark. According to Troy, who has to my knowledge, never set a toe in the ocean.

Big Bend National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

I did not drown, fall off a waterfall or get eaten by a mountain lion in Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Troy hiked all 19+ miles of this trail in Grand Teton without dying

Badlands National Park (click on the compendium for details by year)

The Badlands are named that way for a reason. Troy survived it. Because he's not an idiot and took water and knew where he was. Also because I was not there for him to argue with about which way to go.

Canyonlands National Park

Just past the arch is a drop of over 1500 feet. Don't go to the edge and pose.

Haleakala National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Sequoia National Park

Kings Canyon National Park

Denali National Park

Sadly, there’s no statistics kept on who had it coming. Darwinism may be at work in many of the deaths.

For those of you even more determined to track down who met their fate in the form of being dinner for a wild animal, here you go:

Mountain lion attacks

Black bear attacks

These baby bears are adorable. Mom is pissed off. We stayed a respectful distance away.

Grizzly bear attacks

Polar bear attacks

Shark attacks

Killer bee attacks

Snake bite deaths

You’re welcome.

Big, freakin’ trees – Upper Mariposa Grove

Texas is always arguing that everything is bigger in Texas. Suck it, Texas. California has you beat by a mile.

Big freakin' tree

Seriously, these are big-ass trees. The kind that make you say Holy Sweet Baby Jesus when you see them.

I would sweat bullets in an ice storm living below these

I don’t know why I am writing a post about trees. Except they are huge.

100 feet up, the first branches.

The best place to see them in my opinion is Upper Mariposa Grove in Yosemite. Fair warning: the hike is hard, steep and long and it’s over 6500 feet in elevation so you’ll suck wind 100 feet into the hike. It’s the kind of hike that makes you question why you started in the first place. After the Grizzly Giant tree, you won’t see hardly anyone on the trail. Because it sucks to hike that steep a trail. Jean’s Pain rating: 7 out of 10 for steepness, lack of oxygen and the occasional old lady with a hiking stick who makes you look bad.

Troy hiding in a sequoia tree

Another day in paradise: Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon

It just wouldn’t be a Harrison vacation unless the weather sucked and in keeping with tradition, this year’s California trip did not disappoint. Or, actually, it did disappoint, and the weather sucked. While Tennessee baked mercilessly in 100 degree heat, northern California could not buy a ray of sunshine. Troy and I detoured from Yosemite for a day to see the giant sequoias that populate the aptly-named Sequoia National Park. Sadly, they were hard to see.

A canopy of giant trees or the poster for the next Twilight movie: Sequoia shrouded in fog.

Giant sequoias are giant. It’s hard to define giant until you’re standing next to it. Rest assured, these are big fucking trees. Even if the fog was so heavy you couldn’t really see them.

Troy standing inside a fallen sequoia at Grant's Grove in King's Canyon National Park.

Perhaps you missed the white stuff on the ground. They call it snow. In June.

General Grant Tree. In snow. In June. Guess that's why it's called the Nation's Christmas Tree.

I desperately wanted to make a snow ball and hit Troy in the face but he said if I did, he would wrestle me to the ground and shove snow down my cleavage and then I would be really wet and cold.  Having some experience in ignoring threats like this to my peril, discretion won out and I stayed (reasonably) dry. Every giant tree is named after a Union general or other Yankee. I suppose this is because the trees were set aside during Lincoln’s tenure, but it could also be because Yankee generals really wanted to have something long and giant named after them to make up for other shortcomings. Sequoias have really soft, spongy bark and they make crappy wood for building anything because it splinters. Lincoln had to save them from wholesale slaughter because, even though they could really only be used to make pencils, our ancestors had the social conscience of fleas and would have cut them down to make mulch because they could. I am amazed sometimes that we survive as a species despite ourselves.

Troy and I at the world's biggest tree (General Sherman) which we could not really see and now neither can you. This is a crappy vacation picture to be sure.

We finally decided to drive to the far side of King’s Canyon National Park and were rewarded with sunshine and warmer temperatures. We saw no one. This has to be the most deserted park we’ve been to. This would have been a totally awesome place to see Bigfoot, but I was again denied. No ‘squatch for Jean this trip. Just a waterfall:

Grizzly Falls, Kings Canyon National Park. I don't know why they call it that. They have no grizzlies here.

Yosemite: The Uphill Death March

Yosemite is a beautiful place. Waterfalls, lush meadows, young European men on holiday- it’s a feast for the eyes. The most famous of hikes in this very famous national park is known as The Mist Trail. Aside from the insane climb to the top of Half Dome, the Mist Trail was the trail Troy wanted to hike. I do not understand what it is about my very competitive nature that mandates that I attempt to kill myself following Troy on hikes I have no business doing, but there was no way in hell I was not going to go.

To begin with, the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls climbs about 1000 feet or so over one-and-a-half miles.  Simple math shows this is pain in the making. It’s short, but steep, and at the end, it’s evil. Steps carved straight into the granite cliffs next to the Merced River which tumbles over Vernal Falls.

There's a happy rainbow to cheer you as you break your ass on the granite steps

Vernal Falls is pretty:

Vernal Falls

Had I only been less stubborn, I would have stopped here at the footbridge looking over the Merced River up to Vernal Falls:

The Merced River

I was not smart enough to stop here. As usual. It will be days before I can walk without pain. As usual.

Yosemite, Day 1: I look like a drowned rat

Mark Twain once said the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. I get this now. It was 59 degrees here yesterday. In June. The only good thing about this was an unexpected benefit for my fellow travelers as this means it is too cold to show off my extremely white legs in shorts as they will have to be encased in long pants.

Yosemite is not quite what I expected. I saw the news before I left about the sheer volume of water spilling over Yosemite’s very famous waterfalls. I was stoked to see them  as they have said it is a once in a generation chance to see that kind of volume. I was not prepared. It is loud. Jet engine loud. These are very, very big falls and pictures do not do them justice. I’ll try with a short video:

What this all means is that I got soaked. Drowned rat kind of soaked. The kind of soaked that when your hair finally dries you look like Chaka Khan on a bad hair day. I brought a change of shoes but not clothes. Planning wisely is not my strong suit and I would have sucked as a boy scout.  Good thing I was never required to be prepared.

.

I am too weak to hike Burgess Falls in Tennessee

Every spring when the trees turn green and the flowers bloom, I get the itch to hike. This is not an itch I had before I married Troy as I was very much a city girl who smoked, wore black and swilled martinis regularly. Once married, I developed a fondness for seeing places that you have to work to get to and that most people are too lazy to ever see. This fondess is in direct conflict with my intrinsic laziness and my loathing for sweating, chafing, etc. Since late April, I have been trying to get a weekend free to hike Burgess Falls, which is a picturesque little state park an hour or so east of Nashville not far from Cookeville, Tennessee. Since the state parks allow dogs on trails, we take our more athletically-inclined dogs with us.

Only two get to go hiking. Also, I suck at vacuuming.

The weather has been a problem this year. Lots of tornadoes, tons of flooding. I am not fond of the duck and cover approach to outdoor events, so it took a while to get a weekend when it wasn’t raining, hailing, blowing, etc. Finally, we loaded up and headed out. As someone with legendarily bad knees, this hike is one I can even manage without a lot of trouble. However, I failed to consider the effects of taking chemo dugs on my hiking abilities. (note to readers: I do not have cancer, I have lupus which sucks, but not nearly as badly as cancer). I take a cocktail of things to keep the lupus at bay and recently started on the chemo route again when my eyes started to swell and other drugs did not work.  On the plus side, I no longer look like an extra from Twilight with blood red eyes. On the downside, I can’t drink martinis and I find that I am really missing the red blood cells I used to have in abundance.

Burgess Falls is a gorgeous hike and with all the rain, the falls are in full show:

Burgess Falls, Lower Cascade

This is the easy part and pretty much the first thing you see in the parking lot. The climb up starts after this:

Burgess Falls, Middle Falls

Getting to Middle Falls requires a mild cardio workout with lots of steps and a steady incline over a short .5 mile climb. On chemo, it’s painful. When I have to rest at the overlook, this is a problem. I really miss my red blood cells.

At the end of the trail, you see the big falls which are really quite impressive and a good 50+ feet tall:

Burgess Falls, the reward for breathing hard at the end of the trail

Inexplicably, the trail was heavily populated by tourists from India, some of them swathed in saris and sandals, which I do not consider a good choice for hiking on rocky trails. Their children all wanted to pet Bess and Zoe:

Zoe, Bess and their Daddy pose for the camera, and Indians.

One last little bit of pretty:

Cascade at Burgess Falls

A simple little 1.5 miles and I am nearly defeated. This bodes badly for the upcoming trip to Yosemite. Encroaching old age sucks.