Hiking With the Park, Forest and Land Management Rangers
Being the founding editor and owner of Backpacker magazine, there were always rangers wanting to hike with me.
Since I hold rangers in high regard, I was honored to hike with them -- in many backcountry and wilderness areas.
I found they were "my kind of hiker."
They enjoyed leisurely hiking, soaking in the pleasures of nature -- without a challenge of times or distances we hiked.
Un-Packing Decades of My Backpacking Adventures
My hiking stick medallions carry memories of decades of adventures -- of hikes in deserts, canyons and forests, and mountains I’ve climbed. I'll be posting about them on my blog. Subscribe free for notification each time I post.
Climbing Uncompahgre With National Park Ranger Steve
Steve Bridgehouse was a ranger at the Grand Canyon National Park backcountry hiking permit office.
My nephew, Kenn and I, got to know Steve when we registered for our many hikes in the Grand Canyon. He almost always seemed to be on duty when we signed in.
He knew every trail that we planned to take and aided us with our planning. He loved the backcountry even more than us, if that's possible!
There was a time we bumped into Steve when he was not on duty, but heading out on one of his own hikes.
He asked if we would help him get to the remote trailhead where he would begin his hike. We leaped at the opportunity.
Some time later, as fortune would have it, Steve asked if I'd take him to the Rockies for some mountain climbing.
He'd never hiked in the high peaks, having spent most of his life hiking the canyons of northern Arizona and southern Utah.
Into the Rocky Mountains
We decided to climb a couple of Colorado's Fourteeners.
So we headed into the San Juan range.
We hiked in from the west to a trail junction between Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre peaks where we set up our base camp.
I got to tell you, for a guy like me who grew up in the grey weather of Detroit, just the hike into this luxuriant mountain meadow was pleasure enough.
Never mind the anticipation of climbing two of Colorado's magnificent fourteeners -- one to the right, the other to the left!
So okay, on Day One, disappointment shadowed our hopes.
It didn't take much mountaineering experience to see that the snow still covering the most challenging section of the route near the summit of Wetterhorn would be more of a risk without rope and climbing hardware than would be wise.
So we decided it best to turn to Uncompahgre and save Wetterhorn for another day.
So up we went.
As we neared the summit and were negotiating the only really difficult section of the route, a group of rambunctious teens scrambled jovially past us on up to the top ahead of us.
For Lake City teens it's just one of their enjoyable Sunday afternoon pastimes.
Actually, to be fair to Steve and I, Uncompahgre is much easier from the Lake City side than our route.
Our climb was a splendid day hike from our campsite in the West.
Grand Canyon with BLM Ranger Linus Meyers
I hiked with another ranger into the Grand Canyon.
Linus Meyer was technically not a ranger.
He managed rangeland for the Bureau of Land Management.
He was a buddy from the early Sunday morning services of our church.
He'd never been to the Grand Canyon.
So I took him on its most popular overnight backpacking route.
We hiked the loop down the South Kaibab to the Bright Angel Campground next to the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch. Then back up the Bright Angel Trail.
It's a seven-mile hike down five thousand feet to the Bright Angel Campground.
But the hike back up is longer.
It is three miles on a trail along the Colorado River to where it meets the Bright Angel Trail that goes up seven miles and five thousand feet to the rim.
It's usual to begin the full ten-miles early in the morning for you are going up directly in the hot sun all the way to the top.
Hiking it was the first time I truly realized my age. I was then in my early seventies, but still hadn't admitted I'd been slowing down.
It was fun playing guide to someone who hadn't hiked the Grand Canyon, though I wouldn't want to do it on a regular basis.
I confess that I pushed Linus' patience.
I enjoyed stopping and chatting with hikers along the way, especially aiding them in taking pictures of their group.
Stopping to chat of course, was a good excuse to get another rest stop.
I clearly pressed it on the way back up, taking more and more opportunities to stop and chat with hikers -- and of course, get a rest!
It finally passed Linus' good nature. And his patience ran out.
So I suggested, and Linus accepted, that he hike the rest of the way without me. And we'd meet me on top for dinner.
It was maybe the only time I ever got out of synch with a ranger with whom I was hiking.
My age was brought fully to my attention at the end of this hike.
A number of people had passed up this old geezer with my full pack on the arduous climb out of the canyon.
And a number of these hikers were lined up on both sides of the trail waiting for the old geezer to pop up over the rim. And they applauded.
I was embarrassed that anyone would think it was some sort of "feat" for me to hike the distance.
But, in hindsight of my ninetieth year, I appreciate it.
And confess this was my surrender to the idea that age had crept up on me.
So thanks to all of you who were there, if you should happen to read this post.
Speaking of a celebration in the Grand Canyon reminds me of another.
My nephew Kenn was my favorite hiking companion with whom I hiked dozens of times in the Grand Canyon.
We usually took three or four backpack trips a year.
He lives in California and I in New Mexico. So the canyon is about equidistance between us.
Our first trek a year would be in early spring.
When I would get spring fever, I'd call Kenn, and we'd meet at the Grand for a few days of warm sunshine.
One year we traded off our spring Grand Canyon hike for something Kenn liked down near Zuma, Arizona where it was sure to be hot -- no matter what!
Since I didn't care for it once we got there, Kenn suggested we leave for the Grand.
When we got to the Grand Canyon he managed a miracle, wrangling us a cottage down at Phantom Ranch.
We hustled on down there in time for steak dinner -- for which Kenn treated, it being my 75th birthday.
And we were in my favorite place.
How good could it get!
Well it did get better.
After dinner when the staff was bringing in the desert (guests at Phantom all eat in the large dining room at long shared tables) the lights went out in the dining room.
Then kitchen doors swung open and two staff members carried in a huge sheet cake with seventy-five lighted candles, singing, "Happy birthday to Bill."
Of course all the guests joined in the singing!
Birthday Celebrations in the Grand Canyon
A quarter century earlier, when I was fifty, I was also on a big trek in the Grand Canyon.
Kenn was along on that jaunt as well.
It was a big undertaking with twelve of us, me being the leader, on a three-week backpack into a remote area.
I had been so taken up in planning and enjoying our trek that I'd even forgotten it was my birthday.
But not Kenn.
He announced at dinner in our camp one evening that, "It's my Uncle Bill's birthday."
It was generous of him to remember.
And he presented me a cake with a single lit candle as he announced, "Happy Birthday, Uncle Bill."
The cake happened to be a dried up cow turd.
So we had our good laugh on Bill that year.
As I say, a quarter century later, on my 75th, Kenn made up for it in grand style down there at Phantom.
We've had our share of great great times on the trails. More about those times in my future posts.