TransCanyon Ski Jacob Lake to South Rim
22-29 Jan 1997 -- Trip Leader: Marshall Malden
Marshall Malden, Roger Dale, Nancy Neuman, Mary Orton, Kristen Samson, Mike Fraser, Doug Nering.
I had planned to do this trip 3 years ago. Then, I had a bicycle crash in the 1993 El Tour de Tucson and a fractured pelvis and was unable to recover in the time needed to prepare for a trip like this. Marshall went on to complete the trip with just one companion. When Bill and Nancy decided to do it again I signed on immediately. But scheduling problems arose and Bill and Nancy cancelled. Marshall then took up the task of lining up all the reservations.
This is a major trip and one of those things where, once begun, there is almost no alternative to going on. Preparation and teamwork are essential to success. This is something Marshall understands very well, so he has arranged for us to meet, discuss plans and gear requirements, and to try things out before the trip. I am a complete newbie to x-country skiing, and hesitant about acquiring a new skill for this trip, but all the group are very supportive.
The first trial is a trip up to the Snowbowl ski area at the first opportunity after there seems to be enough snow. We arrive early one morning at the Snowbowl parking lot and rig our equipment for going up the trail on Mount Humphreys and spending a night out. Everyone has their sled and skis. With a sympathetic OK from Marshall, I've decided to try snowshoes rather than skis.
It was a useful learning experience. I like the snowshoes for their maneuverability and traction, but it proves difficult to keep up with the others when the conditions favor skis. I have a nice sled that tracks well, but I haven't yet rigged tow-poles to make a harness. Not needing my skipoles for balance, I can use one of them to guide the sled and keep it from running onto my heels going downhill. I bought these Leki telescoping poles, complete with removable basket-ends, for inner Grand Canyon off-trail use; they are the perfect equipment for this trip. The sled doesn't track so well going across the slope, but that's the same for everyone. In fact my sled does better than most even without a harness. We estimate the overnight temperature on the mountain to have been about 9F. That's the coldest I think I have ever experienced. Not surprisingly, snow camping is a lot more work.
This first trial not being a complete success, Marshall arranges a follow-up trip with his family to see how I can manage on skis. This time, I have my sled harness ready. First, a trip out and back without the sled to see how things go. Then I hook up and try doing the real thing. We make a fairly long loop out of one of the moderately difficult tracks and the result is a success. Most of the time I ski outside the groomed tracks. This is a more realistic test and less interference with other skiers who don't have to go around me. A few places where there is much of a downhill prove to be more of a challenge. The sled has a lot of momentum and limited steering, but it's not uncontrollable. At the end of the day I feel sure I can manage this and Marshall seems pleased with the result as well.
Day One -- We spend the whole day getting to our starting point. This means meeting at Marshall's by 6:30 and packing all gear into Mike's truck. Then we head north. In Flagstaff we stop at Babbitt's to rent skis (two of us). Everyone else already has their gear. There is some discussion about how much each of us has spent on equipment. Most can count several hundred dollars in new gear.
Marshall has mostly his own gear and has a new pair of skis with a new type of binding system. This will allow him to ski in hiking boots, so he needs only one pair of shoes. He and Roger will share a three-person tent borrowed from Grand Canyon Dories. Marshall has convinced most of us to use a sled to tow packs to the rim.
Roger has Vibram ski boots with three-pin bindings that he will ski and hike in. He is going pack-on-back. Roger has done a lot of skiing and snow camping, but not so much distance as we are planning.
Nancy has done lots of skiing and has new ski boots with hinge-bindings that also have lug-soles for hiking. She also has a sled.
Mary is teamed with Nancy to share a tent. Mary has quite a bit of x-country skiing experience and has just started to take an interest in the Grand Canyon trails. Mary is towing a sled also.
Kristen is a young woman with skiing and mountaineering experience, and she is on the Ski Patrol at Sunrise Ski Resort. Her skis are telemark style and she is also going pack-on-back.
Mike is a strong hiker with lots of outdoors experience. His experience snow-camping, he says, has been mostly involuntary and not the kind he would like to repeat. Like me, he is a novice on skis and we are partners to share my new tent. We have both rented skis and boots for the trip and are using sleds.
Most of us, with the exception of Kristen and Roger have had some trip experience together. In early December we all drove up to the Snow Bowl and towed sleds up the hill to spend a night out as a test. Mary and Nancy did a snow trip together to the Lava Tube in early January. I went to the Flagstaff Nordic Center with Marshall's family for my first time on x-country skis.
At the south rim we transfer all gear to a big van for the trip to Jacob Lake. By the time we arrive at Jacob Lake there is no room left for doubt that we have a good group of people who are all getting along together very well. After unloading gear and getting supper, a walk down the road suggests we may have problems with the start in the morning... the first 9 miles of road are plowed so Kaibab Lodge guests can make to where the snow-van picks up and its all pavement with big drifts along the side. Evening entertainment around the lodge fireplace is a stretching class from Nancy.