Just Deserts (Part 3 of n)

2 04 2014

Monday night, we were buzzing from our Grand Canyon experience. We popped into Safeway and bought some wraps and lettuce and other stuff for a light meal. It sounds frugal, but to be honest it was as much because we really didn’t fancy many of the restaurant options. Mrs E tried to get me to go to the Singing Pig, but frankly it looked far too shady, despite the apparently positive online reviews.

Tuesday began with a  relaxed breakfast – more of the same old weird scrambled eggs and spicy sausage that seem mandatory in a certain type of hotel – and we were back on the road, heading for Flagstaff. Unfortunately we then missed the turn North for Page, but some ingenious “car-park cutting through” from Mrs E and we were back on the right road. We did briefly take the suddenly presented opportunity to stock up on fizzy water and some random comestibles (she was unwise enough to take third-born with her into the shop…) before heading North, but it was an uneventful drive into Page, passing through some remarkable scenery. The soil gradually turned red, and we were definitely in sandstone country…

Once we arrived, we asked Gladys* to help us get to the hotel, and we took what we called “Church Crescent” (S. Lake Powell Blvd) to the hotel. Seriously, for a town the size of Page, it had an unbelievable array of subtly different church denominations all within a block or two.

Churches in Page, AZ

Churches in Page, AZ

It was mid afternoon, and I went for a stroll around the environs. There was a clear view of the dam and bridge (though we never actually got to visit either as things would turn out), and the temperature was quite pleasant. On returning to the hotel, I got directions for the famous Horseshoe Bend, and we set off in search of it. This time Gladys led us completely astray, as Horseshoe Bend Rd. turned out to in fact just be the access road to Walmart! The actual turn-off was just a kilometre further on, with free parking. It was a short hike to the river, and truly spectacular views. The trail was my first realisation that “leave no trace” seemed to not be well understood in these parts, and the incredibly fragile desert biosphere was happily trampled on by marauding tourists walking extremely wide of the clear and well-marked path. It’s one thing to walk on relatively hard-wearing and forgiving rock, but this delicate sand was home to many fragile plants and animals. The path was intended to limit the scope of the damage caused by foot traffic, and it was a little sad to see how readily people felt the need to cut a corner or trample a sage bush.

The strong sunlight made it unexpectedly hard to get a good photo, as the flare was quite insistent, but the fresh air gave us an appetite, and we had a lovely dinner at The Dam Bar & Grille. The local beer was a little too hoppy for my taste, but it was a very pleasant evening nonetheless. Son of E had a giant 1lb burger, and to his credit ate all the chips they felt it needed to be accompanied by.

The Dam Big Burger

The Dam Big Burger


To be continued…


*Gladys/GLaDOS is the name of the belligerent all-seeing computer in Portal, a problem-solving video game much loved by son. It became the nom to plume of the GPS application running on my BlackBerry, which has this curious mixture of plummy Queen’s English (“In approximately 1km, turn left on…”) and brash American (“10th Avenoo”). She was bearable for only short stints when we really needed it.

Wikipedia: GlaDOS

Just Deserts (Part 2 of n)

30 03 2014


So – Monday in Williams, AZ. It was St. Patrick’s day, so there was an irritating amount of green being worn. Maybe if 23rd April was as well celebrated in the Americas I’d be less grumpy. (That’s St. George’s day, if you didn’t know… patron saint of  herpetologists ;) ).

Williams is tiny, but still has the standard US grid system… and a train line. And the train goes once a day… to the GRAND CANYON!

Fair dues… there’s not a lot going for the town of Williams, but what it has it makes the most of. It even has a one way road system, to force you to drive on as many of its tiny selection of roads as possible. I suppose it evens out the wear on the tarmac or something.

We woke up bright and early and headed for the hotel to catch the train. We’d pre-booked and it was a good job. Not quite in the Indian railway’s league, but pretty full, all the same.

Image: The Indian Express (sic)

Once we’d collected our boarding tickets, we headed off to the bleachers for some slapstick cowboy fun before boarding the train. It was a bit forced, but the kids in the crowd seemed to enjoy it, and who am I to say how “entertainment” should be defined?

The train ride was over 2 hours each way, and passed through some amazing changes of scenery. The start took us through a patch of ground colonised by prairie dogs which were energetic in the morning sun, despite the cool temperatures. Each carriage had a couple of stewarding staff. Ours was an elderly guy called Joe – who I swear sounded like a retired Elvis impersonator – and a young lady with far too many teeth and a fanatical desire to smile continuously. At least we’d be fine if the lights went out…

Part of the deal was a musical interlude provided by a live musician. I’ve definitely heard worse, but it was a bit surreal.

It was hard to believe that over two hours had passed when we arrived at the Grand Canyon. A complicated triangle was negotiated to allow the train to basically do a three point turn ready for the trip back later in the afternoon. And we were off… three hours to “do” the GC. Nowhere nearly long enough obviously. This could only ever be a small taste of the real experience. The toothy stewardess was trying to suggest restaurants and shuttle bus rides, which I guess was the typical experience for most of her customers. What a waste! You only had 3 hours… why on Earth would you waste it in a restaurant or a bus?!

Nope, we were off over the tracks, up the steps and drooling over the view in mere moments! A quick packed lunch (which the local squirrels tried to steal), and we headed off down the hole, via the Bright Angel trail… Obviously we weren’t going to get anywhere near the bottom in the short time we had, but we had a very pleasant walk down the well maintained path, and got some spectacular views – particularly of the Battleship formation. My overarching impression is that it was so bloody vast that it just didn’t seem real! Weird… it was almost disappointing. It is so familiar from photos and films, that when you see it for real, it feels more like a theatre backdrop. I remember a similar feeling when I saw many famous impressionist art works in the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. It was hard to muster the appropriate emotion.

After our sweaty return from the canyon, we just had time to walk a little along the top where there’s an informative display of the various geological eras exposed in the canyon, then it was time to get back on board the train for our return trip back down to Williams. We were in the same seats, so got to see the other side of the tracks on the way back. We set off slowly until we left the National Park perimeter, then the train picked up speed and we were regaled with more music. This time from a native Navajo called Clarence Clearwater. He took the opportunity to put a plug in for the Navajo-run sky walk at the West of the canyon that hadn’t been forced to close due to the recent Federal funding crisis… unlike the South Rim. The trip back seemed a lot faster, but I became fascinated by the telegraph lines that had fallen into disrepair. Some stretches were still fully wired, but others had just air to pass the now non-existent telegraph messages through. Then suddenly we slowed a little and saw the fearsome gang from the morning by the side of the tracks. We were boarded, and ever so politely asked if we’d like to donate to their retirement funds… all in very good nature and much fun for the youngsters in the party. Or even the teenagers!

To be continued…

The hills are alive…

5 08 2013

… with the sound of thunder!
At least the hills in Manning Park BC were yesterday.

We left White Rock a little later than I’d hoped (two women in attendance – I’ll leave the sexist comments unsaid), but despite it being the long weekend (BC Day today, Monday), the roads were quiet, and we made good headway along Hwy1 and then Hwy 3 towards Manning Park.

After driving for 20 years in the UK with a clean license, I’d picked up 3 points in Manning Park when we first moved here a decade ago, so despite the clear roads I was careful to stick to BC’s sluggish speed limits. Well – mostly anyway.

What was to be a brief stop at Timmie’s in Hope took longer than expected, as we discovered where all the traffic had gone. It was all parked in Timmie’s car park! The weather was a bit undecided as we’d left White Rock, but brightened steadily as we headed East towards the Cascades. I wasn’t totally sure where the trail-head was for our intended hike up “Three Brothers” in Manning Park, as I’d never been myself. However, I felt well prepared with my GPS all programmed up with the route and a shiny new topographical map keeping my compass company in my rucksack.

As we approached the Manning Park lodge, the turning on the left up Blackwall Rd. was well signed, and I knew that we really couldn’t go wrong now. This road – despite its long wiggly ascent – went nowhere except to the start of the hike. Well – not quite.  There is a lookout giving beautiful views to the South and back over the lodge. Having briefly stopped to verify this was not in fact the trail-head, we continued upwards on what was now only a loose gravel road. It was well maintained, but seemed to have been travelled over by a tracked vehicle and our teeth were chattering as the car’s suspension was pounded by the high frequency ruts in the road.

To the left was a cliff – cut away to make the road and, it seems, continuing to throw sizeable chunks of itself onto the road in a bellicose attempt at revenge. The largest rock in the road was a good 18″ cubed. To the right of the road was a shear, unprotected drop. A steep one. There would be a Hollywood ending to any car slipping off that edge! Eventually we turned the corner and found ourselves at the car-park. I was surprised just how many cars were there, but a time check told me it was already almost 11:30am, and the day was much further on than I’d have liked for beginning such a long hike. The Heather Trail begins at the lower car-park, but there are trails linking to it from the upper car park too.

As we arrived and got ready – checking we had wet weather and cold weather gear “just in case” – a Parks Ranger was just packing up what looked like it had been an interesting display of local flora, and suggesting the nearby “Paintbrush Nature Trail” to the less comprehensively prepared. This is a 45 minute stroll named after the Indian Paintbrush flower common to the area.

For us though was the distant peak of First Brother – nearest of the Three Brothers. It’s a 10km hike there, which not surprisingly entails the same distance to get back! The peak is at 2272m… some 7500ft. Not particularly high in these parts, but for an ex-Brit that is high! It’s almost the same as Ben Nevis stacked on Snowden (or even SnowdOn – thanks Lance) – the highest peaks in Scotland and Wales. Luckily the trail head was already high, so the total ascent was only ~700m total (there and back) which is less than doing the Grouse Grind.

The path leads through a wilderness campsite at Buckhorn Camp with a little bridge over the creek of the same name, then climbs steadily up into the high alpine meadows where the views are drop dead gorgeous. You can see for miles – all the way to your innermost thoughts.

The actual ascent of the First Brother requires a turn off the main Heather Trail, and you follow the sandy and rocky ridge up to the peak.

We were very lucky with the weather and despite ominous thunder and spectacular distant rain storms, we made the peak and safely off the ridge before we were treated to hail showers. That careful preparation of “just in case” clothing was appreciated, and we descended the meadow and back to the car in near silence over the next 2-3 hours.

20km in all, over 6 hours (including photo and meal stops). We had gone to experience the views and see the alpine meadows in full bloom and had not been disappointed. The soil is really fragile at these altitudes and signs reminded hikers that a single boot off the path can cause plant and soil damage that may take 20 years to undo. Despite those, we saw several people hacking off the path for “the perfect camera shot”. I will say though that I was greatly impressed to see not one scrap of litter or cigarette butt up there.

We were steadily grazed upon by a variety of flies including some mosquito-like flies with stripes that I’d not seen before. The worst though were giant flies like regular house flies but bigger. When these bit, you were left a little lighter and with blood oozing from a place where you used to have skin. They were hungry! In addition we saw a few ptarmigan up in the rocky areas and on the drive back down Blackwall Rd. we were lucky enough to see a young fawn with its mother. Actually, I think they were lucky I saw them… they were in the road, and with the loose gravel, a sudden stop would have only been an intention with no guarantee of success!

New Toys

25 07 2013

It’s Thursday. That’s my night to ascend Grouse Mountain in a vain attempt to lose some weight and perhaps last a few more years. Especially as I can’t find the warranty card – if indeed I ever came with one!

The last couple of weeks I’ve used the longer but less steep “BCMC Trail” rather than the more direct “Grouse Grind“.

A couple of reasons really. For variety – I’ve done the GG plenty of times, and I get bored easily. Mainly though – I don’t like to be jostled when I’m hiking , and the GG is very popular. Now the weather’s hotter (Vancouver hasn’t seen a whiff of rain in 28 days) there are even more Lululemon models traipsing up the GG.

So tonight I did the BCMC trail again, but took along some new toys. I recently bought some “Komperdell Ridgehiker Cork Power Lock” hiking poles, and figured it was time I gave them an airing. Another reason not to do the GG – I’d almost certainly spike one of the many folks who like to barge past – safe in the knowledge that THEIR time up is so much more important than MY time up.

polesMy other recent toy though is much more nerdy.

I recently bought a new GPS. Number 1 offspring asked why I needed a new one, and I had to admit that with the ultimate irony… I’d lost my old one! Perhaps I should invest in a couple of “Tiles“. My new GPS is a Garmin eTrex20, and when coupled with their free download “BaseCamp”, it lets you do all manner of cool map-type things. Just to show off then, I present to you, dear reader, the track I took up Grouse Mountain, as well as a rather embarrassing graph showing how slow I was at some points along the way.

BCMC Trail

BCMC Trail

Elevation in metres for the equally nerdy amongst you.

Speed and Elevation as I progressed up the BCMC

Speed and Elevation as I progressed up the BCMC

According to the RFID timer chip, I did it in 1:34 – almost a full half hour faster than last week, but still 6 minutes slower than the week before. At least I’m consistently inconsistent! :)

Depends how you look at it…

20 06 2013

It’s Thursday today.

I’ve tried to do the Grouse Grind regularly on Thursdays, after work. Today was my fifth time this season. Tenth since I paid for the timer chip and started officially recording my ascents last August. The first time I ever got officially timed (last year) I did it in an hour and 20 minutes. Not especially quick but I was quite pleased with it. You may recall that last April I did the Sun Run for the first time, and so by August I was arguably reasonably limber. Well – compared to my former self. The other timings of the year didn’t bear that out though, and on average I was a round 1:30.

If you have the timer chip, your time is displayed on a wide screen monitor at the top of Grouse in the chalet. It’s quite scary to see. There are plenty of people with times in the 30-40 minute range. There are also plenty of names that appear multiple times – meaning the person has ascended the Grouse multiple times that day alone. Last week a name was there TEN times. The slowest time was still less than an hour! It’s only about 3km, but it’s 1,231m high… and there’s a lot of steps. Some natural, some man-made to minimise the erosion.

I began this season reasonably well with an hour and 26. The next couple of times I was within a few seconds at around 1:24. Things were looking up. I might even be getting fitter, and might get back to last year’s all-time best! (I’m also trying to lose some weight and generally try and not die any time soon).

Then came last week. I was 30 minutes slower at 1:56. Weird! A whole half hour slower?! It was really humid though, and the top of the mountain was actually shrouded in cloud. I’m not making excuses you understand… I just couldn’t figure out how I could suddenly be so much slower. I was actually overtaken by the “sweepers” – a couple of super-fit Search and Rescue lads whose role is to amble up the Grind after the gate is locked and nominally nobody else is ascending that day. (In practice people circumvent the fencing, so plenty of people popped out at the top even after I made it up there). I did question the benefit of having sweepers at all if they actually left stragglers (me) behind, but I guess that given the fact that there was no practical way (due to fence hoppers) of telling who the last person actually was, it made no difference.

Anyway tonight it rained. A lot. I ummed and ahhed about whether to go at all. Nominally my son was going to take the SkyRide and wait at the top taking photos until I burst magnificently into the late sunshine out of the woods at the top of the Grind. He bottled out due to the bad weather. Or maybe because his girlfriend made him a better offer. Not sure. It may be a pertinent fact that as I write this at 11:45pm he has yet to come home.

Anyway – I got decidedly wet on the Grind. It’s a tough call for appropriate clothing. You want to travel light, typically in running gear with rugged trainers, contrary to the usual scout “be prepared” preference I’d have – carrying a 75l rucksack with stuff that would allow me to live comfortably on the mountain for a week no matter what happened. I tend to actually carry a small day sack – primarily to hold a 1l water bottle and leave my hands free. I also carry a lightweight fleece jumper in case I meet a nasty accident and have to wait for an extended period waiting for the embarrassing rescue that hopefully would arrive eventually.

(When hiking or going into the back-country ALWAYS tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back in contact. Nobody plans to have an accident…).

Today though – I half expected it’d still be raining, so I also took my super lightweight running shell. It’s not really that waterproof, but it cuts the wind and helps keep you warm if you need it.

And a cap. I’m not big on caps, but I wear glasses. Glasses are really good at correcting faulty vision… unless they steam up or get rained on (I wore contacts for many years purely to avoid steamed up glasses when I transitioned from wet dales hikes in Yorkshire to the “prize” of a pub at the end). A cheap peaked cap does wonders to keep the bulk of the “liquid sunshine” – as we call it Vancouver – off your glasses. I set off in reasonable time (i.e. I wasn’t caught up by the sweepers this week), but by the half-way mark, I was already at an hour, and it was obvious that I’d be logging another poor time. And this started me thinking of an earlier conversation I’d had about the psychology of challenges.

Many years ago, I was a Venture Scout Leader in the UK. I took a group of teenagers on a challenge hike – 40 miles overnight around the moors around Sheffield. The route passed various TV aerial masts, and was called The Masters Hike. It snowed. A couple of the teens wanted to drop out and despite my cajoling them through one more checkpoint, they finally quit. I exited the event at the same checkpoint. As we waited the 10 minutes or so for the “body wagon” – a long wheelbase Landy – to pick us up with the other folk exiting at that checkpoint, I got my second breath. Too late – I was already marked as “out”.

It was a huge lesson to me. I was about 25 at the time, and I vowed I would never quit such an event again purely on “mental grounds”. After that I went on to do many other challenge hikes including “Endurance 80” – an 80km (50mi), 24hr hike through the night. Glad to see that one’s still going strong.

So every time I start up the Grind, I have these little arguments in my head.

“Are you mad?


Are you mad? You’re nearly 50!


You’re pre-diabetic and have a heart problem.

Again – so?

Well this is just asking for trouble. You’ve barely started and you’re panting.

It’s good for you. It’s called “cardio”. The doctor said I should do more of it…”

And so it goes on – often all the way up to the halfway mark, at which juncture I point out to myself that even if I were to give in, it’s as far to the start as it is to the end, so I might as well continue. But behind it all is the memory of that terrible feeling I had as a young pup when I gave in for no other reason than a weak mental moment.

And so I keep going.

One. More. Step.

That’s one closer to the end. Well – do it again then!

And so on. Despite often sounding like Thomas the Tank Engine when I finally emerge at the top, I am rarely achy or physically exhausted. It’s way more a mental challenge than a physical one.

And the point of all this diatribe, you might ask?  Having taken 1:50 tonight, I initially thought “You’re getting old. Slowing down. Everyone passed you. You’re last”.

But then I thought:

“Yes. But I finished. That’s 10 Grouse Grinds since I started logging them. Probably about 15 altogether. All these people were faster than me today. But what about all those who are at home watching TV? Or who caught the SkyRide up to the top? How many of them have even done it once?”

And I smiled. And I ordered my usual cup of tea and fruit scone in the café. And I felt smug as I rode the SkyRide back down… 20 years the senior of everyone else who was muddy and in shorts.

I hope to keep winning the arguments with myself.

This Is Yorkshire on Vimeo

11 06 2013

Not a climber myself, and not one to sit and watch other people climbing as a rule.

But THIS video is different. You see… it’s in God’s Own County. Lots of it in my old stomping ground in and around West Yorkshire. Shipley Glen, Embsay, Brimham Rocks.

As soon as the video starts, the tone and texture of the rock instantly transported me back to the countless hours I spent camping and hiking through that terrain.

The maker (Dan Turner) asks that you consider donating to Climbers Against Cancer if you like his video which sounds like a reasonable request.

This Is Yorkshire on Vimeo.

Very “intense” at FieldCandy

10 06 2013

First born, you may recall is “out East” at Waterloo. She’s a keen Rover Scout and always has half an eye open for interesting outdoor gear, sales and the like.

Today she told me about a UK company called “Field Candy“. They offer a range of tents very (and I mean VERY) similar to the Vango Force 10. Regulars may recall that I possess such a beast, and  very good it is too. Heavy to haul around, but that’s why you have Sherpas I suppose!

Force 10 up Seymour

FieldCandy hit upon the idea of spicing up the old workhorse (sorry – I mean their tent that just happens to look a LOT like the old workhorse) by offering a bewildering array of cool fly sheets. Limited editions too, to ensure that yours is always very special.

Perhaps you’d like the bubble-wrap look:

All wrapped up | FieldCandy.

Or perhaps you like to fall asleep between the pages of a good book…

Fully booked | FieldCandy.

The old UJ is certainly tempting:

Rule Britannia | FieldCandy. But at £395, I think I’ll just stick with ol’ faithful. We’ve shared more than a few adventures together over the almost 30 years we’ve been together. (Though she did get a new fly-sheet a couple of years ago when the zip finally gave way).


Mk4 Vango Force 10



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