Leave No Trace
Last week I attended a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Leave No Trace Master Educator course in Grand Canyon National Park. The course was taught over 5 days, four of which were spent backpacking in the Grand Canyon itself. WHOA!!
Leave No Trace, or LNT for short, is a set of principles that govern how we as human beings should to act in the wilderness to minimize our impact on the environment. More than just a set of seven principles, it is a philosophy, some might say even a way of life. The course was taught by two instructors, Brooke, from NOLS and Ranger AJ from the Parks Service, and included nine students, ranging in age from mid 20’s to mid 50’s. We were a varied bunch, consisting of a couple wilderness rangers, some volunteers, an outdoor educator, and a mountaineer from Croatia. (He was pretty cool!)
The course began early Friday morning. It was pretty interesting, and focused on introductions, LNT history, gear prep, , and a class on LNT Principle 1: Plan Ahead and Prepare.
And then I started getting nervous. Who was I to think I really fit in with these people who were so much more experienced than me? Self-doubt crept in.
We all had dinner at Ranger AJ’s house and met his wife Heather and daughter Maisy over a GREAT vegetarian green chilli stew, then sat back and talked about our personal goals around the fire pit outside before walking back to the campground for the night. Since tents were listed as “supplied equipment” I didn’t bring one. Little did I know that they didn’t mean that the course equipment wouldn’t be in use Friday night. Luckily, Moshe offered to share his tent with me for the night since we were also scheduled to be tent mates for the next few nights as well.
I woke up in the middle of the night freezing my fanny off and couldn’t figure out why I was sol cold. (Ok so it was like 30 degrees outside, but my sleeping bag was rated for 15.) Then I realized the zipper had failed in the middle, so I woke up and fixed it in the dark. It was too late though. I shivered for the rest of the night.
Saturday bright and early all 11 of us carpool out to the Grand View Trail Head. Of the roughly 5 million people that visit Grand Canyon National Park each year, only about 10% will go below the rim. Of these 10%, almost all will take either the North/South Kaibab trail or the popular Bright Angel trail, which together make up what is known as the corridor. This leaves the other trails fairly empty for folks like us. Grandview Trail was pretty empty as we plodded and plodded, and fell on my butt. I got up, and promptly fell again. And with 50 lbs on my back I couldn’t give up again, so I took off my pack and tried again. OUCH!! Something wasn’t right in the region of my left hip. It hurt like heck.
So now I’m embarrassed. Kind Ranger AJ decided it would be best for him to carry my pack – and HIS TOO! More embarrassment ensued. And more pain. I was mortified as I inched step by step down the rest of the trail. It ended up taking me hours more than the rest of the group, but I did make it there under my own power. But now how to get out?? I sure as heck wasn’t a 911 abuser – no broken bones, so come hell or high water I was gonna get out under my own power too. My shame started to give way to determination. If only my pain had listened!
So after spending a few nights of rest on Horseshoe Mesa,(and lots of ibuprofin) teaching an LNT lesson myself, and listening to those of my classmates, I ended up coming back up to the rim a day before the others. I really didn’t want to end my adventure early, but Ranger AJ decided that due to my injury it would be the best thing to do. After all, we didn’t really know how long it would take for me to limp my way back up.
And limp I did. For about 5 hours. But every time we stopped to rest I was amazed at the beauty of the canyon. Storm clouds were rolling in over the North Rim, and the colors in the canyon changed along with the weather. It just never gets old. I could sit and look at it all day. But I had a long hike ahead of me.
The Grandview Trail is a series of switchbacks descending/ascending 3000 ft in just a little over 3 miles. That’s a pretty steep angle, as I had found out on the way down. Now not only did my left hip/leg hurt, but so did my right since I was compensating for my injured left side. And since my trekking poles ended up as makeshift crutches, so were my shoulders and arms. I had a stitch in my side, and every muscle in my body hurt, but I was determined to complete my course! And with Ranger AJ behind me to push on my pack with every big step up, complete it I did!
And what do you think I did when I reached the top?
After getting my pack into the car, I drove out of the park an exhausted mess. The first thing I did was stop at the General Store in Tusayan and buy an overpriced bottle of champagne.
Then I drove to McDonald’s and got some extra salty french fries.
And once inside my hotel room I sat in the tub with my champagne and french fries and cried some more.
And slept like a rock for 12 hours.
The next day had me back in the park and waiting for the rest of the group to come back up to the rim so I could help clean equipment, discuss our outdoor ethic and …..
I am now a Leave No Trace Master Educator. There are only about 3500 of us in the entire world. I will go back to the Grand Canyon again. But next time I’m taking a different trail!