Today on the show Gary talks to Kevin Earley of the ‘Church Club’. Here’s Kevin’s account of their latest outdoor adventure:
Church Club – Grand Canyon Adventure
We are group of 40 something guys busy with family and careers living near Philadelphia. We mountain bike early on Sundays, often meeting at 6 AM for a couple of hours of adventure. We’re home before noon ready to tackle the day and spend some time with the family. When our children were young they would ask where we went. “Dad’s church” was our excuse, but in many ways it was our time for spiritual reflection. Church Club was formed and is indeed religious for each of us.
Besides the weekly Sunday services, every year we plan and enjoy a big adventure that is typically sold to our families as a long weekend out west, simply for exercise and health purposes. Typically we look for peaks to bag like Mt. Elbert in Colorado, or multi-day mountain biking trips like the Centennial Trail in the Dakota Badlands. We typically combine a couple of activities (river running, biking, hiking, and camping), and we jam it into 3 or 4 exhausting days. In September, 2008 we tackled a grand Grand Canyon adventure.
The trip took months of planning and training. Kevin, Jim, Frank, Chuck, Drew, Steve, and Cliff met in Flagstaff, AZ on a Wednesday evening. Thursday we drove to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, looked at the big hole, and boarded a shuttle van for a 5 hr drive to the north rim. We camped at the north rim and awoke early in the morning for our big hike across the canyon in one day. We dropped our camping gear at the general store where the shuttle service promised to return our stuff to the south rim that day. The 7 of us hit the trail by 6:30 AM –at an air temperature of 35 degrees it felt good to be a live. Beginning at the North Kaibab Trailhead, We hiked 14 miles and dropped 5,850 ft. to the bottom of the canyon where it was about 90 degrees when we arrived around 1 PM. We ate lunch at Phantom Ranch and walked to the Colorado River for a dip in the frigid river. Some time around 2:30 PM we crossed the bridge and headed for the south rim up the South Kaibab Trail. The Bright Angel Trail up to the south rim is easier and more popular because there are three water sources. But we opted for the challenge of no water, more scenery and solitude.
The route we took required 7 additional miles and a climb of 4,800 ft to get to our cars. Our group which had hiked to the bottom as one group, broke into 3 groups traveling at slightly different paces. As the sun set the vistas and views were spectacular and spiritual. Storm clouds arrived as the sun set and we were all trudging along in our own trance. We were feeling the impact of the elevation gain, as we each carefully tried to keep hydrated and fueled. As darkness approached we knew the trip was epic and we also knew we would get out of the hole. Except one of us was suffering from dehydration and made our climb a scary adventure. Drew was one of the fittest in our group, and was drinking regularly and even took salt tablets at the river bottom. For whatever reason, he got sick and his progress slowed to a crawl. Fortunately we were all in small groups, and Cliff made sure Drew was OK. Close to the top, Drew vomited on the trail, and with the team’s help he made it out, in the dark. It was a brief scare but fortunately Drew was back in form the next day. We all hiked out with our lights, and experienced a rare thunderstorm. It is hard to describe the sublime and surreal experience that night as we completed an epic 14 hour, 21 mile canyon crossing in one day ending with rain, lightening and beautiful darkness.
Like all of our adventures, we did more. After a rest day, we tackled the highest point in Arizona, Humphrey’s Peak – 12,633 ft. It was easy for us, a 10 mile round-trip scenic hike with about a 4,200 ft vertical gain from Arizona Snow Bowl. The hike through Ponderosa pines and then onto volcanic rocks with great views was just magical. We didn’t want it to end, we were having fun. As usual, it was very windy at the top of the world. With this climb finished, we satisfied our goal of going from the Colorado River to the top of the world (9,000 vertical feet) in 48 hours – not bad for some middle-aged 45+ old men from the east coast. And we knocked-off one more high peak (we have a secret desire to bag all of the high peaks in the US).
The long weekend was completed with some mountain biking near Sedona and beers at the Weatherly Hotel – and Zane Grey Ballroom in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was an exhausting trip, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The adventure is just one of many more to come as we live our life motto:
“Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming… WOW What a ride!”
In 2009, we are contemplating another extreme adventure – this time our goal will be to go from Badwater (the lowest point in the northern hemisphere at -282 ft below sea level) to Telescope Peak (11,049 ft) in Death Valley. This is the warm-up, we really want to get on top of Mt. Whitney (14,500 ft), the highest point in the continental US, in the same trip, is it possible? I don’t know, but I didn’t think we could cross the grand canyon in one day. I’m betting that the Church Club, will pull it off.
Also on the show, more comments from listeners about their own outdoor adventures and favorite adventure books. Check out the websites ‘The First 13,1 Miles‘ and ‘Southern Ontario Outdoors‘. Podsafe music this week by Great Big Sea.