Vacations, Part Five: Wet Ones!
My brother-in-law, Peter, made several opportunities available to me in the mountains, including mountaineering, river rafting and canyoneering. When I was still in college, he included me on several hikes in the White Mountains with another brother-in-law, Ernie, Ernie’s brother, Paul, and Peter’s friend, Gilbert. He took my sister (Jane) and me on my first river trip down Desolation Canyon on the Green River in Utah, as well as the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho. He and I also went up one of the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado while Jane waited at our base camp half way up. Finally (I think it was in this century) we went canyoneering in Utah with my sister, Jane (photo to the left). My most recent hiking trips with Peter were challenging because I don’t adjust as quickly to the altitude as he seems to think I should. Our climb up Mt. Torrey’s (Colorado) via the Kelso Ridge was a fun route and more technical than I would have attempted without him. Sadly, I was also as sick as I had ever felt in the mountains, being over 14,000 feet the day after coming from sea level. It was too beautiful to regret going, but I could have felt much better with some acclimatization. Peter (or I?) made a similar mistake in 2013 when I asked him if he’d like to go on a ‘wimpy’ hike with Ann and me, since I was just getting over being very ill for most of a year. He just doesn’t understand wimpy. We climbed Mt. Evans (14,264′) – or most of it. There’s a road up to the top, so my nephew, Jamie, took the car up and parked it, rode his mountain bike down and quickly caught up with us on the trail. Maybe I should have tried hiking from that parking lot (14,130′)! Even though I knew it wasn’t a good pick for me, it was a good one for Ann who had trouble with her knees and toes coming downhill. This way, she was able to climb to the top of a 14-er and not have to hike down! Somewhere around 13,400, Peter pronounced that I looked green and he hiked back down with me, carrying most of my stuff. The hardest part on the way down was a 200 foot uphill gain on which I struggled, cairn by cairn, stopping to rest at each one and losing lunch somewhere in the middle. That lightened the load and it did help me feel a bit better!
Rivers are fun, too! Our trip down Desolation Canyon provided many novel experiences for me. It was my first time in that sort of canyon and the first time I paddled a kayak. First I tried it on the flat water and eventually in some mild rapids. I did try one that was rated “4”, but by the time I tried to figure out where I was supposed to go I had flipped. Drat! Not knowing how to roll the boat over, I had to swim with it to shore. To be a ‘river rat’, you had to jump off the cliff into the water, so naturally, I jumped off the cliff. I had a huge crush on Peter’s friend, Doug, who was leading the trip and his parents were also participants. His father tried everything right after I did. He paddled the kayak, then ran some rapids and jumped off the cliff. I used to have a picture of him standing up there waiting to go next as I was in mid-air on my way down. When we parted, Doug said to come out skiing sometime. I knew he wasn’t interested in me, but I sent him a note anyway, asking if he’d be able to go skiing with me if I came out. Much to my delight, he responded, saying his family was renting a condo at Aspen the week after Christmas and his father would love to see me! Oh, well. You can’t have everything. So I went out, enjoyed his family and friends and had a blast skiing.
Years later I had my best trip to date in the Grand Canyon. My friend, Kim, was going to hike down the Bright Angel Trail and join a group to raft the lower half of the Canyon. To my great good fortune, someone cancelled at the last minute and I was invited to go! Mark’s father, Ray, went with us and had not hiked since having had a pacemaker installed. He brought a huge backpack and began to have trouble carrying it shortly after we started down. Eventually, we had split his pack among the other four of us and he made it down just fine. It was good to see that health issues didn’t stop him and that working together, we could all make the journey. There were kayakers with the group who could rescue us if necessary and of course we wore those lovely pumpkin-like life vests, so they allowed us to paddle inflatable kayaks that we called ‘duckies’ in some seriously wild white water. My new friend, Mark, and I paddled through Upset Falls, rated 8 on the Grand Canyon’s unique scale that goes up to 10. The waves were way over my head and I just paddled like crazy, almost tipping over one way, then the other, and finally ending up on the other side of the rapid, still in the boat! What a surprise! The next day, Kim paddled too, so Mark and I shared a ‘double duckie’. We were air-born a couple times, but miraculously landed back in the boat. The three of us were great ‘playmates’, running the trails on hikes, exploring side canyons, and loving it all. A couple years later I returned with a hiking friend, Karen, to run the whole canyon and met some wonderful people. They didn’t have duckies that time, but had a shredder (see picture on the right), which is sort of like an inflatable catamaran with two pontoons and a seat stretched between. There was just one place to hold a foot for ‘security’ in the middle. Karen and I had been paddling the shredder when the trip leader warned us that the next section might be too tough and asked if we wanted to try it or ride on the raft instead. I quickly said ‘oh, yes!’ that we wanted to paddle the shredder. As we approached the roaring rapid, I exclaimed (fairly typically) “Holy Shit!” Later, Karen said she thought I knew what I was doing until I yelled. She wasn’t very happy with me, but we did make it and it was REALLY exciting!
Silver Nugget #1: If you get a chance to paddle some rapids with people who know what they’re doing (for safety), go for it! Rivers can be very dangerous, but there are ways to minimize the risk while experiencing the thrill.
Silver Nugget #2: Go see our National Parks! At age 62, you can get a “Senior Pass” good for entry to the parks for your whole lifetime. There are some spectacular sights in our own beautiful country and especially at some of the parks. I hear the price is going up (from $10 to $80?) but even at $80 it’s worth it. There are a couple advantages to aging, so don’t miss them!
Silver Nugget #3: Don’t give up the things you love to do because of age or health issues, until you really have to! If friends help each other out, they can keep going longer.
Next week, more about how family can help cope with aging.