I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville



Oct 24, 2018

Travel Blog: A First Taste of the Grand Canyon

A 2 day geologic trip through Earth's past, via a descent into the mile-deep Grand Canyon.


Evan Quarnstrom

Descending into the Grand Canyon is a walk through the history of planet Earth. Every inch of the valley wall tells a story of vastly different environments. Staring at the rocks at the valley floor is peering 1.8 billion years into the planet’s past, back to a time long before even multicellular organisms existed.

Even for those who aren’t as overly enthusiastic about rocks as I am, the Grand Canyon is quite the sight. The brain has a tough time comprehending the vastness that lies before you when peeking over the canyon’s edge. The Grand Canyon ranges 277 miles and I only saw a small portion of it. It’s big and definitely can’t be remotely explored in one trip.

I had been trying to plan a trip to the Grand Canyon ever since college, but for various reasons I was never able to make it happen. I wanted to do it right and backpack, but the permit process and my work/school schedule prevented that from ever happening. Finally, years later, enough was enough. I had to go to the Grand Canyon. People travel half way around the world just to see it, and I couldn’t hop in my car for an 8-hour drive from San Diego? 1I took a day off work to make an artificial long weekend and hopped in my trusty Nissan with Madison to experience the Grand Canyon for my first time.

We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park just after midnight in pelting rain. Not keen on setting up a tent in the rain after the long drive, we opted to recline the seats and sleep in the car.

Day 1: Grandview Point to Horseshoe Mesa

Distance: 11 miles
Elevation change: 2,160 feet
Duration: 6 hours (with a nice nap)

Looking out at the Grand Canyon from Grandview Point. This was the first area of the park to be developed for tourism, but it fell out of popularity when construction began at what is current day Grand Canyon Village about 12 miles to the west.

For our first day we thought it would make sense to do a “warm up” hike to get the blood going. We woke up, turned on the car, blasted the heater and headed to Grandview Point on the south rim. Our destination was Horseshoe Mesa — a plateau about 2,000 feet below the canyon rim with a protruding, semicircle mesa resembling a horseshoe, hence the name. We took our sweet time making breakfast and taking frequent breaks along the hike to take in the views.

The rim at Grandview was enclosed in a fog bank, so we had little to no idea what lay before us until we descended a few hundred feet and the immense valley walls first made themselves known. The seemingly easy distance and elevation gain turned out to be much more difficult due to the trail conditions. Much of the steep part of the trail was on cobblestone or wedged rocks, making footing more critical and climbing more strenuous. That said, in the grand scheme of things the hike was not too strenuous as per my standards. We made for a narrow peninsula of land that sticks out from the plateau and intermittently napped and ate lunch with a spectacular view of the canyon at our feet.

This is a great example of the transition of sediment layers, which marks a radical change in climate and environment that the rocks experienced in Earth’s history. In this case, the red ‘Hermit Shale’ on the bottom, which was formed by a ‘semi-arid lowland with meandering rivers’ 275 million years ago, abruptly turned into a dry land of continuous sand dunes on the continent of Pangea 260 million years ago. This formed the ‘Coconino Sandstone’, which is the lighter rock seen above. Geologists can even determine that the prevailing winds during this period came from the north due to the directions that the solidified dunes appear to flow.

Day 2: Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point

Distance: 14 miles
Elevation Change: 3,200 feet
Time: 7 hours

We saved the tougher of the two hikes for our second (and final) day at the Grand Canyon. We figured we would be more rested after a full night’s sleep.

There are signs everywhere, both physically on the trail and online, saying to not hike to the river and back in one day. I wanted to hike all the way to the river and back to feel like I had truly experienced the Grand Canyon, but I deferred to the warnings and settled for the destination of Plateau Point, which was a second best option, about 1,000 feet above the river.

What on paper seemed like a tougher hike actually ended up being easier than I expected. The well-worn, dirt trails and various water spigots made for fast, light hiking. We made such good time that next time, weather permitting, I definitely would hike all the way down to the river.

The Bright Angel Trail, unlike the Grandview Trail, is one of the high-traffic trails in the park. The views of the canyon were probably slightly better, but solitude was tough to come by. The deeper in the canyon you go, the relatively more serious the hiker that you will come across, but on the way back up, as you get closer to the top, the brand of hiker gets a little more obnoxious. You get everything from the loud eighth grade class field trips to elegantly dressed foreigners, and of course those real smart tourists that like to test their luck on the cliff edges. Still, the crowds did not rival what I have seen on my various trips to Yosemite, so I wasn’t bothered. People that are willing to hike long distances tend to be friendly, so there was mostly just smiles and ‘howdies’ on the trail. I did also jump into a funny conversation about Kanye West’s White House visit, which was sparked by an Obama supporter with a thick southern accent (don’t come across that every day).

The Grand Canyon certainly did live up to its name on my first trip. It was nice to see the canyon in person after having seen photos and movies, even views from airplanes. It truly is a world-renowned treasure that we have relatively in our backyard. Can’t take that for granted. I already have the itch to go back and complete the rim to river hike, or even do an overnight trip if I can attain a permit.

We’ll be back.

All photos by Maddison or Evan.

Evan Quarnstrom grew up in the quiet surf town of Santa Cruz, California, where unsurprisingly he developed a love for the ocean and nature. At 18, Evan headed for San Diego in pursuit of warmer weather and an education. Evan attended San Diego State University to study International Business, finishing of his degree off with a year-long study abroad program in Chile. Evan is now the Marketing and Media Manager at the International Surfing Association.

You can follow Evan on Instagram.

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Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.



Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

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