Just for fun

2017 in Review

My resolution for 2017 was to not only to get outside more but to do more backpacking and camping. As the year wraps up, I'm happy to say that I've met that goal and then some. I started Trial by Trail in March of this year as a way to document my trips and hopefully to help and inspire others to plan their own. I have learned so much this year and I am looking forward to a 2018 full of adventure. 

Best Overall: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim 

Ribbon Falls 

The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike is 24 miles with roughly 10k feet of elevation change. We hiked North to South over three days in June, spending two nights at the bottom of the canyon. Temperatures reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit, but we stayed cool by swimming at Ribbon Falls and in Bright Angel Creek. 

There is just something about the Grand Canyon. The top of the rims offer amazing views, but the bottom of the canyon is what I found the most astounding. The absolute lack of noise from cars and people was something I had never experienced before. As you hike to the bottom of the canyon, it's like walking through time. I have never felt my own impermanence more strongly. 

Click here to read more about our Rim to Rim hike and how to plan your own. 

Passing by some mules headed down into the canyon on our way up to the South rim.

Most Unique: The Narrows Top Down

Aptly named, the Narrows is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon and is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park. The canyon walls reach over 1,000 feet tall and only 20 to 30 feet wide in some places. The Virgin River runs through the canyon so the hike is mostly through flowing water that generally ranges from ankle to waist deep (and sometimes deeper).

We were unable to obtain an overnight permit for this hike so we did all 16 miles from Chamberlain's Ranch to the Temple of Sinawava in one day. Armed with dry pants, dry bags, canyoneering shoes, and really big walking sticks, we finished the hike in about 9.5 hours.

Click here to learn how to plan your own Narrows hike. 

Most Challenging: Grand Circle Trailfest 

I took up trail running towards the end of 2016 as a way to train for longer backpacking trips. I've always hated running, having stuck mostly to roads. I've discovered that running on trails is a completely different experience and one that I actually enjoy. 

As I continued to add additional miles to my long runs I must have been feeling overconfident because my husband convinced me to sign up for the Grand Circle Trailfest, a three day trail running festival near Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks. We only signed up for the first two days, but both days were farther than I had ever run in my life with a lot of elevation gain (Day 1 was 14 miles with 4k elevation gain, day 2 was 12 miles with 2k feet of elevation gain). 

I surprised myself. It was hard, the first day especially, but I did it. It was inspiring and humbling to see people of all ages on the trail. At one point I paced off a lady who looked like she was about 80 and any sense of grandeur I had disappeared immediately. The trails were magnificent and despite my legs being extremely tired, I found myself regretting not signing up for the third day. 

Best Camping: Pedernales Falls State Park 

My husband and I visited several State Parks this year that we had either never been to at all or had never camped at: Pedernales Falls State Park, Garner State Park, Colorado Bend State Park, Virgin Creek State Park, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. 

Pedernales Falls 

  1. Pedernales Falls State Park: So far, Pedernales Falls is my favorite camping spot for it's proximity to Austin, private camp sites, and network of hiking trails. 
  2. Colorado Bend State Park: We definitely need a second visit to Colorado Bend State Park as we left a few trails un-hiked on our visit. It's second on my list because the drive-in campsites offer no privacy from other campers (walk-in campsites do), but the hiking trails are beautiful. 
  3. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area: Definitely one of the most unique natural areas in Texas, Enchanted Rock is the closest you'll get to seeing a mountain in South Texas (unless you count Old Baldy in Garner State Park). It's third on my list because the hiking trails are lacking, but if you're into rock climbing I highly suggest checking it out. There are only walk-in campsites so no RVs or roof-top tents allowed. 
  4. Garner State Park: I have to admit this is low on my list because of how crowded the park was. With a two hour wait to check-in on a Friday evening, we likely won't return to this park to camp. 
  5. Village Creek State Park: Unfortunately, this park was heavily damaged by Hurricane Harvey and only the RV camping part of the park is open. All trails are closed and the canoe launch was destroyed during the storm. 

Enchanted Rock 

Colorado Bend 

Virgin Creek

Garner

What's Next? 

My husband Taylor and I are turning 30 this summer and we want to celebrate with our biggest trip yet. We're applying for permits to hike the John Muir Trail in late July. The JMT is a roughly 200 mile part of the Pacific Crest Trail, starting in Yosemite Valley and ending at Mt. Whitney. We expect it to take us around 20 days to complete. Fingers crossed we can get permits! Stay tuned to hear more about planning and logistics for this trip. 

 

My Favorite Outdoor Adventure Books

A few months ago I wrote a post about some of my favorite outdoor podcasts and I'm following up with a list of some of my favorite outdoor adventure books. These are all great reads and in my opinion are the next best thing to adventuring yourself. 

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

As the title suggests, this book tells the story of the fastest boat ride ever down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. During parts of the book I could close my eyes and feel as if I was on the boat myself, hurtling down the giant rapids of the Colorado. Not only is it a thrilling read, but it teaches you a ton about the history and exploration of the Grand Canyon, including some of the present day threats the Canyon faces. I read this book right after doing the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike and it definitely deepened the appreciation I already felt for this amazing piece of planet Earth.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

This domain was older and deeper, by far, than anything they could even pretend to imagine—a dimension of time and space where God himself seemed to be a deluded and laughable idea and, in the same instant, closer and more ingrained than the teeth inside one’s own head.

Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankford 

This book takes you behind the scenes of some of our nation's most popular National Parks, where the Park Ranger's mission is to Protect the park from the people, the people from the park, and the people from themselves. Largely about search and rescue operations in parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, Angela recounts stories of her time as a ranger and those of other rangers she worked with during her career. This book strikes a balance between lightheartedness and a gritty reality which I really enjoyed. I found the struggles Lankford faced as a female ranger especially interesting (and frustrating). 

Some of my favorite tidbits from the book:  

Park rangers call a hiker like this a “Code W.” A Code W is a wimp. There is nothing medically wrong with a Code W. He is only tired and sore. His spirit, not his body, is broken. A Code W falls for the Grand Canyon's insidious trap and now wants the federal government to rescue him out of it - on his terms and within his time frame. A Code W does not consider the many real emergencies and depressing tragedies the ranger has dealt with that day.
In the United States, a park ranger is more likely to be assaulted in the line of duty than is any other federal officer, including those who work for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF); the Secret Service; and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Thru Hiking will Break your Heart: An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail by Carrot Quinn 

This book is similar to Wild but focuses much more on the day to day experience of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Quinn is a lovable and quirky narrator who I immediately felt a sense of kinship with. Quinn immerses you fully into the experience and introduces you to thru-hiking norms like hiker noon (9am) and hiker midnight (9pm), to the joys of trail magic (food/drink left by "trail angels" for hikers to enjoy), and the experience of a trail family - perfect strangers who you build strong bonds with as you cover the same stretch of land from Mexico to Canada. 

Some of my favorite quotes: 

In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back, into safety.
I plod along the sandy path, my pack like a giant hand crushing me into the earth. What is even in this thing? Fear, probably. Fear that this or that will happen. My fear is crushing me into the earth.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson 

This book is no doubt on many other "best outdoor books" lists and for good reason. It's laugh out loud funny and has put the rest of Bill Bryson's books on the top of my to-read list. Bryson chronicles his hike of the Appalachian Trail with his cantankerous and out of shape hiking partner who often throws fits and dumps portions of his food on the trail to lighten his load. His writing about bears is both hilarious and informative and like Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart listed above, he helps the reader understand what hiking a long trail is actually like. 

My favorite quotes:

What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.
I know a woman who gets in her car to go a quarter of a mile to a college gymnasium to walk on a treadmill, then complains passionately about the difficulty of finding a parking space. When I asked her once why she didn't walk to the gym and do five minutes less on the treadmill, she looked at me as if I were being willfully provocative. 'Because I have a program for the treadmill,' she explained. 'It records my distance and speed, and I can adjust it for degree of difficulty.' It hadn't occurred to me how thoughtlessly deficient nature is in this regard.

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Outdoor Podcasts

I've gotten more into podcasts recently and have been listening to them a lot in the car or while I run. I've mainly focused on outdoor related podcasts and find they give me a bit of a nature fix when I'm between camping/backpacking trips or stuck inside because of the hot Texas Summer. I'm sharing some of my favorites in this post. 

Outside Podcast

This podcast is basically Outside magazine converted into audio form. Each episode is related to a theme Outside has explored in the past. I've especially enjoyed the Science of Survival pieces where they retell stories of survival in extreme environments. 

My favorite episodes so far:
XX Factor: How the Sports Bra Changed History
Science of Survival: In Too Deep

The Dirtbag Diaries

The Dirtbag Diaries podcast has been around for several years which is great because you can binge listen to episodes and still not run out. The podcast retells adventure stories and covers a range of outdoor experiences like climbing, biking, hiking, skiing, etc. The stories are simple yet inspiring. 

My favorite episodes so far:
The Fear is Real
Start Saying Yes
Any of the Tales of Terror episodes (there are 7 volumes) 

Women on the Road

This is a brand new bi-weekly podcast with only 3 episodes so far, but I'm really enjoying it. The podcast is hosted by Laura Hughes, a woman who lives out of her Ford Transit Van. She interviews other women in various stages of life on the road. As someone who has thought about this lifestyle a lot recently, I'm really enjoying hearing experiences of other women who have made it a reality. 

My favorite episode so far: 
Episode one: What we wish we knew before hitting the road

Discovering Nature

Where were you when you discovered your love for nature?

This discovery came slowly for me. I grew up in the suburbs of San Antonio, the seventh most populated city in the US. While I spent a lot of time outside growing up, my activities centered mostly around team sports. A few RV camping trips with my grandparents and extended family were fun but made no lasting impression. 

I was 24 when my boyfriend (now husband) Taylor suggested we tack a visit to Colorado onto the end of another trip we were taking to Washington DC. I agreed, and before I knew it we were driving through Estes Park on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. At this point, I was more excited to see the famous Stanley Hotel (which had served as inspiration for Stephen King's novel The Shining) than I was for our hike. 

TrailheadSign.jpg

Taylor had done some research and picked a 9-mile hike for us to do named Sky Pond. The hike begins at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, one of the more popular parts of the park. Because of this, we started the hike surrounded by other park visitors, many of which dropped off about a mile in at Alberta Falls. The chatter of other people died away as we continued on and the trail became continually more challenging. Not used to the elevation, I trailed several steps behind Taylor for most of the hike. 

 Loch Vale aka The Loch, about 3 miles into the Sky Pond hike

Loch Vale aka The Loch, about 3 miles into the Sky Pond hike

About four miles from the trailhead we reached the base of Timberline Falls. From there, the trail went directly up the side of the waterfall. This required us to climb/scramble about 100 feet up. The climb wasn't too difficult, but I found it exhilarating. Once at the top, we found the Lake of Glass and amazing views of several surrounding peaks. Despite the many people we had started the hike with, we were the only ones who had climbed the falls and we had this beautiful piece of nature all to ourselves. 

 Lake of Glass, Rocky Mountain National Park 

Lake of Glass, Rocky Mountain National Park 

That moment at Lake of Glass stands out vividly in my memory. The feeling of accomplishment of having made it to the top, the slight fatigue from the hike, the solitude, and the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains formed an intoxicating combination. This was the moment I fell in love with the outdoors. 

Where were you? 

 Heading down from Lake of Glass

Heading down from Lake of Glass

Camping Recipes: Southwestern Chicken Packets

My number one rule for cooking while camping is this: Foil is your friend. You can pretty much throw anything you want into a foil packet and toss it over your campfire coals to cook. Prep is simple and clean up is easy. We tried this recipe a few weekends ago while camping in Colorado Bend State Park and it was delicious.

 You can also throw the foil packets directly into the fire if you don't have a griddle. 

You can also throw the foil packets directly into the fire if you don't have a griddle. 

Ingredients

The amount of each ingredient can vary based on your personal preference. The amount listed below will make 4 servings.

  • 4 skinless chicken breast
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 3 cups of corn (we used frozen)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
  • salsa
  • shredded cheese
  • cilantro (as much or as little as you want)
  • guacamole or sour cream for topping

Prep

  • Mix the beans, corn, salt, pepper, and cilantro in a bowl
  • Cut each chicken breast into smaller strips, season with salt and pepper
  • Cut 8 pieces of aluminum foil, roughly 12 inches long each
  • Distribute bean/corn mixture evenly across 4 pieces of foil
  • Add one chicken breast (3-4 strips) to each foil
  • You can choose to add cheese and salsa to the foil packets. We threw them in the cooler and added them after cooking the packets.
  • Use the other 4 pieces of foil to cover the others, folding the sides over several times to create a packet

Cook

Throw the chicken packets directly onto your campfire coals. You can also cook over a charcoal grill if that is readily available. Cook for about 25 - 30 minutes, flipping the packets every few minutes. Add cheese and salsa if you did not originally include in the packets. Top with guacamole and/or sour cream and then stuff your face with this delicious and easy meal.
 

Animal Encounters of the Raccoon Kind

Coca, our Catahoula Pitbull mix, sighs deeply as she settles into the dirt on the far side of our campfire. She's close enough to feel the warmth of the fire but far enough away so the smoke doesn't get into her spotted nose. It's now fully dark, and the four of us (myself, my husband Taylor, and two of our best friends, Garret and Justin) all have our eyes pointed towards the night sky. We're extremely lucky that it's a clear night and the stars are shining bright. We're all trying to point out constellations that we know...which isn't many. We definitely see the Big Dipper and maybe something that might be Orion's Belt. Either way, it's beautiful and calming, a sight that we don't get to see much of back home in Austin.

We're thoroughly enjoying the night. The fire is mesmerizing. We take turns staring into it and gazing up to appreciate the stars. The conversation is good. At some point, we hear Coca behind us. She's pushing her metal bowls around which we've left full of water and dog food under the nearby picnic table. The noise intensifies.

“Wow, Coca must be hungry,” Justin comments. There's a pause as we all slowly turn our heads away from the noise to the complete opposite direction where Coca still lies, curled up in a ball and almost asleep. Then it dawns on us, and we all quickly turn our headlamps on, searching the darkness under the picnic table.

The Raccoon freezes. We freeze. Its eyes glow creepily in the light from our headlamps. It's been eating the dog food that we left for Coca not ten feet away from us. A few seconds go by where no one moves. Then, Mr. Raccoon turns tail and runs, his fat butt swaying back and forth as he goes. We can tell this raccoon is used to the late night snacks it steals from the campers in this park.

He gives us one final look over his shoulder as he disappears into the darkness.
 

Coca, our Catahoula Pitbull Mix