Sunset (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Mission accomplished! What mission, you ask? Well, by not visiting anywhere with grizzly bears, we successfully avoided grizzlies! A job well done. Additionally, 9 parks, 8,200 road miles, and several new friends later, we have wrapped up our trip and are back in Chicago. We had the time of our lives out West, with the highlight of our journey coming last – Olympic National Park. Be forewarned, fair reader, for this post is our most epic (in terms of words, images, wildlife, and hijinks) yet. We thought about making this post a two-parter, but decided to go out in a (hopefully not interminably) long blaze of glory. We hope you enjoy it, and we apologize in advance if you get caught looking at pretty pictures while at work. This one might be best reserved for home viewing.

Sunset at Rialto Beach (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Before heading to Olympic, we made a stop in Seattle. We did some laundry and visited the mecca of Costcos in Kirkland, WA. Then we spent the night in the city itself, where we hit the bars and made some friends. Cindy, Justin apologizes for not letting you take a game of Skee-Ball.

Cindy is a good sport; Justin needs to pull up his pants (Photo: Nathan Fry)

From there, we made our way to the peninsula where Olympic resides. This is a park that contains vastly different landscapes, ranging from beaches to rainforests to mountains. We put together a full week in Olympic, starting with the beach and ending in the rainforest. Why not the mountains? It’s cold up there, friend. Also, heavy snowpack and a still-present avalanche risk convinced us to stick to lower-lying territory, although we did make a foggy drive to the top of the park to see the Hurricane Ridge range, so at least we can claim to have seen said mountains. After the drive we headed to a car campground called Mora, where we were close enough to the beach to try our hands at some coastal sunset shots.

Foggy tree in the mountains (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

A break in the fog (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Clouds aglow (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Nathan shooting the coast (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Rialto Beach (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Sunset at Rialto Beach (Photo: Nathan Fry)

After a night at Mora, we hiked south past Third Beach to a spot called Toleak Point. Immediately we were greeted by an incredibly picturesque view of the ocean. Not only that but there were bald eagles soaring overhead and, after we took pictures of the tidepools at low tide, we very nearly stumbled over a young harbor seal on the beach. We snapped some shots and then left it alone as it made its way into the ocean, hopefully to safety.

Juvenile harbor seal (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Yawning seals look pretty fierce (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Toleak Point (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Toleak Point (Photo: Nathan Fry)

We decided to take it easy on our second day to enjoy the beach as it’s supposed to be enjoyed – by doing absolutely nothing that could be considered constructive in any way. We got up at 5 am for sunrise, grabbed some more tidepool pictures, and took nice long naps at our oceanfront campsite. The rest of the day we sat around eating, reading, and stoking a bonfire that smelled incredibly good thanks to our driftwood fuel. This was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing days in recent history that either of us can think of. It also gave us ample time to read our books, which we apparently chose from our freshman year reading lists: Pride and Prejudice for Nathan and Jane Eyre for Justin. Since beginning his book, Nathan now insists on making all expressions of exclamation or surprise in the form of: “Oh, Mr. Darcy, I do declare!”. He also now measures time in fortnights, making things slightly difficult on Justin.

Low tide (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Bald eagles on the lookout (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Eagle soaring (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Seals lounging at sunrise (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Sunset at Toleak Point (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Clowning by the fire (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Day three, we were supposed to hike out according to our backcountry permit… but we just couldn’t leave the beach behind. Thanks to some rationing of food (and us consistently packing enough for the offensive line of a D1 football team), we were able to spend one more night at Toleak Point. Around 1 pm we went for a dayhike down to Mosquito Creek (not the strongest name choice, in our joint opinion). Well, along the way, we encountered several bald eagles circling overhead so we stopped for pictures. As Justin mindlessly fired away, Nathan decided to push on a little farther. Unfortunately, Justin never found Nathan down that trail so he decided to head back to camp thinking he’d see Nathan in not too long. 6:30 came with still no word from Nathan, so Justin put together a search party (a party of one but then again that’s the normal attendance at Justin’s parties) to try to locate his compatriot. Fortunately we ran into each other after not too long and nobody had to sleep sans tent that night. We did our usual sunset photography and campfire and fell asleep a bit teary-eyed knowing we’d have to leave our ocean-view estate behind.

Immature bald eagle (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

By the next morning we really were low on food, so it was time to go. After a meal of grits (gruel is probably more accurate – not our finest work), we headed back to the car and made our way around the peninsula to our next destination in the rainforest. We loaded our packs up and headed in, hoping the rainforest could come close to our experience at the beach. The trail follows the raging Quinault River, which has a beautiful aqua tint due to the glacial till that gets washed down from the surrounding snowy mountains.

Quinault River at Pony Bridge (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Day two in the rainforest, we made our way farther up the trail. We passed through a recent avalanche and a dicey water crossing towards the Enchanted Valley, a name we hoped meant we’d be seeing fairies and wizards. Instead we got black bears and elk, which was cool by us. It was too dark and rainy to get any great animal or mountain pictures that day but we had high hopes that things would turn around the next morning. We also met some cool folks along the way, which is always a nice plus (hello Gregg and Ro if you’re reading this!).

Justin crossing Pyrites Creek (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Our third day in the rainforest, we set out early to look for black bears. Justin went on two separate hikes without much luck… but as soon as he got back to the tent there was a black bear wandering by. Very funny, bear. We were able to grab some pictures of the bear before he crossed the river into the forest and out of our hearts forever. The best part of this encounter is that we can show actual pictures instead of an artist’s representation. Oh yeah, and, this being a valley and all, there were some not-too-shabby mountains around too.

Black bear chowing down (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Nom nom nom (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Morning fog covering the mountains of the Enchanted Valley (Photo: Nathan Fry)

On the way back we saw another black bear. As Justin daringly wandered close enough to give his new bruin pal a high-five, Nathan stayed back to photograph their friendly encounter. Then the moment of truth was upon us: we had to do the dreaded creek crossing in reverse. This traverse had haunted Justin’s dreams, as he is blessed with the balance of a house of cards in a hurricane. Fortunately, both of us made it over just fine. Once we got back to our last campsite, Nathan decided it was time for a swim… in a river fed with glacial runoff water, not a hot spring or at the local YMCA. Justin gladly watched and photographed the madness (although afterwards Nathan took on an air of superiority since it had only been 8 days since he last “bathed” but for Justin it had been a disgusting 9). In the course of scrambling down to the swimming hole, Justin once again became mired in mud. Astute readers will recognize the similarity of the below picture to one from our very first night of camping in Moab, UT (our Arches post). Everything came full circle with Justin once again stuck shin deep, this time on our very last night outdoors. We spent some more time in the evening scrambling up and down steep hillsides, across downed trees, and around thorny bushes all for the sake of some pictures (which we think were worth it).

How close is too close? (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Bear friend (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

The iffy crossing (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

It's about to get chilly (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Running water (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Lord of the mud (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Our last morning was bittersweet, to say the least. We felt blessed to walk out of the park safe and sound and end our trip amidst such incredible natural beauty. We were also glad to begin our journey home to see our loved ones and resume the more normal aspects of our lives. This is a trip that we will never forget and will always be thankful for.

One of our favorite ways to pass the time on the trail has been thinking of stories and quips to share on this blog. Hopefully you have enjoyed our anecdotes and, if not, then at least some pretty-good-for-amateur pictures. We hope to publish one or two more posts of some of our favorite photos that we didn’t include in the blog thus far; we’re not sure exactly when they’ll go up but look for them within a fortnight. Thanks for following along with us!

Nathan and Justin

Petrified log or beached whale? (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Who says backpacking and high fashion don't mix? (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Tide pools at Toleak Point (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Quinault River, early morning (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Crooked trees (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Justin enjoys sunsets and long walks on the beach... (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Rocks (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Strolling through the rainforest (Photo: Nathan Fry)

The safe way to cross the river (Photo: Nathan Fry)

The master at work (Photo: Nathan Fry)

The Quinault River (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Photographing by the river (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

After the Redwoods, we decided to get back to our more typical, strenuous style of backpacking. We headed up to Oregon, talked to the rangers, and put together a 5 day, 4 night trip that would take us around Crater Lake. We had heard great things about the park, so we were both pretty excited. To give you a little background on Crater Lake, it is the remnants of an old volcano that collapsed, leaving a huge crater that then filled with rain and snowmelt, resulting in one of the purest bodies of water in North America. The park also forms the southern point of the Cascade mountain range and receives the second most snow of any national park. This year Crater Lake received 649 inches of snow, well above average. Here’s what the visitor center parking lot looks like. The dude standing on the car isn’t usually there but he seemed pretty proud of himself for his novel picture idea.

Oh, real original, Justin (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Breaking news (Photo: Nathan Fry)

One thing was less than ideal at the start – the rain. Now, we’ve never actually seen cats and dogs fall from the sky but we’re pretty sure the expression was coined to describe the conditions in which we started snowshoeing. We had a late start and quite a bit of mileage and elevation gain to cover so we hustled the best we could to our first campsite near a spot called Sun Notch. While the hike in was tough, the view was absolutely worth it. Justin thinks it is the single most scenic thing he has ever seen. Hopefully we were able to do it justice.

Sunset from Sun Notch (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Placid waters (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Day two took us along a snow-buried road away from the rim of the lake and then finally back towards the lake again. There’s no way to sugarcoat it – this was the single most miserable day of hiking we have done. We started around 9 AM and hiked until 5 with few breaks, covering close to 10 miles on the Rim Drive “road” (‘road’ is in quotes here since it was covered with about 20 feet of snow) with the sun not making an appearance until around 3:30. We rarely could see the lake and, at times, we were in the clouds (and not in a “we’re on cloud nine!” way). To make matters more difficult we had to cover our second avalanche bypass, a detour that goes around a potential avalanche zone on the main road. To put it mildly, these bypasses hurt and slowed us down tremendously because they involved off-trail navigation through dense forests. Around 5 o’clock we finally arrived at a suitable campsite where we nursed our blisters and other maladies and slept as soundly as we could through the low overnight temperatures. If you heard whimpering sounds from wherever you were Monday night, we apologize – that was probably us.

Day two (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

On the buried road (Photo: Nathan Fry)

One of the nice day two views (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Day three was like a sweet ray of sunshine. It was another long day but we had great lake views and the sun was out the whole time. Also, by the end of the day we hit the part of the road that had been cleared by snow removal crews, who have done a ton of work and yet still have a tremendous task ahead of them. The dry roads meant quicker travel and no more snowshoes for us. That night’s campsite is our new strangest site, surpassing the Orick, CA horse pasture. We were rather fond of it and we think you’ll see why. However, we’re fairly sure this campsite is not sanctioned by the Department of the Interior.

The final campsite (Photo: Nathan Fry)

A day three view of Crater Lake's crystal waters (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Some rare clear pavement before the plowed road (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Some impressive snow clearing (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Wall of snow (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Nathan photographing at sunset (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Justin snapping some shots in the wind (Photo: Nathan Fry)

The clear road (Photo: Nathan Fry)

This brought us to Wednesday morning. We woke up freezing for the third time in a row, thanks to us bringing our lighter sleeping bags – apparently our weather forecast comprehension is not quite up to par because we expected to be plenty warm but were instead faced with 20 degree lows. Since we were cold and had been making good time thus far we decided to head for the exit instead of spend the final night in the park that our permit allowed. So we woke up to photograph the sunrise, quickly packed our things so that work crews would not catch us with our tent tied to their snow shooting machine (that’s probably what they call it in the biz), and made our way out.

Crater Lake at sunrise (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

More intimidating than the average plow (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

From there came a recovery stop in Eugene, OR, home of the Ducks, and then a couple of days in Portland. Thanks to Keely, LJ, and Dezirae for hosting us, and to Nicole and Katie for the very entertaining dinner and bonfire. We write this from a Starbucks in Seattle (a little cliche, we know), on our way to Olympic National Park. That may well be our last major stop in this journey, but we do not yet know. Whatever we decide, you, our intrepid readers, will be the first to know. An early happy Flag Day from avoidinggrizzlies to you all!

Something else to avoid besides grizzlies (Photo: Justin Khalifa)


One of our favorite parts of the trip thus far has been the people we’ve met and had the pleasure to spend time with. While we have been able to stay in touch with some of those people, we unfortunately hadn’t had a chance to spend more than a couple of hours with any of them – before our time between Yosemite and the Redwoods.

We met Donny and Kim Lieberman in the Bay Area during the St. Mary’s graduation weekend. They were generous enough to offer us a place to stay in their home in Chico, if we happened to pass through that way. With the promise of a nice meal and a warm bed, we somehow managed to amend our itinerary to go directly through Chico – imagine that!. Luckily for us, Donny and Kim were still kind enough to let us stay with them despite our streak of eight days without showering. Thank you so much to the Liebermans for the warm place to stay, excellent meal, Ken Burns National Parks DVDs, bottles of wine, letting us use their beautiful pool to check for leaks in Justin’s sleeping pad, and everything else. The few hours we got to spend with you lifted our spirits in a major way.

After passing through Chico, we headed toward Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Just outside the park, we got a flat tire as we pulled off the road for a photo opportunity. Thirty miles from the nearest repair shop and with the sun fading fast, we fortunately had pulled off the road right in front of the home of a friendly couple who both helped us temporarily patch the tire and found a spot for us to camp in the local rodeo grounds. Our thanks go out to that unknown couple in Orick, CA!

The shot that most likely led to the flat... like the cactus rose, not worth it (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Lonely tent (Photo: Nathan Fry)

No kids (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Rodeo stands (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Tractor (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

The next morning, as we dragged ourselves out of our tent, a bunch of people and horses started showing up at the rodeo grounds. We figured we should get moving since we sort of stuck out as the lone tent in a horse pasture. As we were leaving to get a new tire we ran into three awesome girls who, after hearing of our immense suffering (just kidding, please don’t feel bad for us) on the road, invited us to spend the night at the cabin they had rented. To prepare, the two of us limped the car to Costco (putting air in the bad tire every 10 minutes), got a new tire (free — thanks warehouse giant!), did a little dayhike, and enjoyed sunset on the beach. We spent the remainder of the night wining, dining, and generally having an excellently social time with our new friends, Tai, Nicole, and Keeley – a welcome departure from our typical night of pasta and staring contests in the tent. Thank you ladies for providing us with some sorely needed friendly faces.

Group shot (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Bum tire (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

The beach (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Our first dinner of the evening (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Justin reading (Photo: Nathan Fry)

The next day, it was time to get down to business (and why you read this blog in the first place). We first helped out Tai by doing a little modeling for her California tourism promotional photo shoot. After that, we headed out for an overnight backpacking trip in the park. We were a little slow after our previous night’s 5 AM bedtime, but we managed to photograph some elk and the forest, set up camp, and cook ourselves a fine meal before sleeping like babies (if babies smelled like feet and snored loudly). Also, our apologies for the delay in posting, but internet access has proven elusive recently. Expect a Crater Lake post in not too long…

Elk glamour shot (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Elk bulls (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Redwood trunk (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Nathan and Justin on location (Photo: Tai Power Seeff)

Fern Canyon (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Great Blue Heron hunting (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Redwoods (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Barn at sunrise (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Even Justin's luxurious legs are dwarfed by these big, red trees (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Banana slug (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Snake (Photo: Nathan Fry)


We had a fantastic (but altogether too brief) time with Justin’s family in the Bay Area for his sister Lauren’s college graduation. Below is photographic proof that we clean up rather well if forced to do so.

Cleaned up and smelling good for the first time in weeks (Photo: Amin Khalifa)

Afterwards we headed to Yosemite National Park, just a few hours east of San Francisco. We arrived in the park with no real idea of what we wanted to do. However, a quick trip to the Wilderness Center at the park helped us pull together a plan. We decided to spend five days and four nights on a trail that would take us past Mirror Lake and North Dome to Yosemite Falls. This little bird reassured us we had a great plan, and requested only a few snacks in return (it received none!).

Aggressive bird (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Backpacker's campground (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Our first day had us hike around 4 miles, including a 3,100 foot climb in 1.4 miles, a tough task made more difficult by the fact that we were carrying our heaviest loads yet, including bear-proof food canisters, snowshoes, and more food than usual. Our heads felt like this on the way up:

Tremendous ascent, poor photography (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Other than some bad camerawork and sore legs, we made it through the ascent unscathed. A hearty dinner and the first campfire in avoidinggrizzlies’ history later, we were fast asleep in full view of Yosemite’s famous Half Dome.

Tent, dwarfed by Half Dome (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Half Dome in black & white (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

The next day, we woke up to a massive black bear wandering by our camp. Having been instructed by a ranger to make any bears in our campsite as uncomfortable as possible, we yelled at it until it felt sad and unwelcome, and it scampered off. Unfortunately, this meant we did not capture any pictures of the bear. Fortunately, we are great artists, so with the aid of digital technology, we are able to recreate the scene with pixel-perfect precision:

Bear Encounter, Lifelike Recreation (Image by: avoidinggrizzlies. Don't even think of trying to steal this work of art for commercial purposes

After conquering all Mother Nature could throw at us (that is, the timid black bear), we set off for our next night’s campsite. This had us going up a steep, snow-covered slope, and navigating by map and compass rather than based on a trail. It was another tough hike, but one that we enjoyed. Here is Justin climbing Indian Rock, and us looking very happy at the apex:

Justin climbing Indian Rock (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Snow is bright, eyes don't want to open (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

After traversing the majority of our mileage for the day, we decided to put on the snowshoes for the first time. It made sense at the time… but within two or three minutes we hit this for the first time in several hours:

Snowshoes typically work better on snow (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Where snowshoes are actually helpful (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

We made it down to camp and decided to head back out for some sunset photography, yielding the following images:

North Dome (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Half Dome, shrouded in clouds (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

The next couple of days, we took it easy. We hiked around a little, did some mountaineering practice with the ice axe, and otherwise relaxed. We even had time for a couple of headshots. Also, our final night allowed us to view a pretty cool natural phenomenon – a tremendously loud rockfall near Half Dome.

Justin's favorite camping pastime - The Count of Monte Cristo is long, however (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Nathan, slightly whitened by sunscreen but still looking good (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Justin, hair less disheveled than usual (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Half Dome rockfall (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Dusk over Yosemite (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Our final day on this hike had us wake up around 5 AM to descend around 3,500 feet, a feat most notable for the punishment it inflicts upon knees and toes. We made it down and captured a few early morning shots along the way.

Light on the mountain (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Yosemite, morning (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Interesting mountain colors (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

After four nights on the trail at Yosemite, you might think we had enough – but for whatever reason, we decided to go back to the Wilderness Center to see if there were any other good options out there. We were convinced to do a mostly undocumented trail called Rockslide. We were under the impression it got its name because one part of the trail (an old carriage road) was wiped out by a rockslide. In actuality, pretty much the whole thing looked like this:

Oh, so it's one big rockslide? (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Unrelenting rain kept us pretty much holed away in the tent, so this hike was a bit of a lost cause. But at least we know how this trail got its name.

Now we are headed farther north in California – perhaps taking our first stab at mountaineering this trip on Mt. Shasta. Questions or comments before then? Let us know!

Whitewater (Photo: Nathan Fry)

The trees grow tall (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Rapid water (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Holy tree trunk! (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Indian Rock ascent (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Hot, hot videos!

We’ve been trying to use the video function on our overly-priced DSLR cameras in order to let you share in some of our favorite moments, just as we experienced them. Unfortunately we’re a little behind because the file sizes of these videos are quite large and consequently hard to upload via the spotty wi-fi internet we steal while parked outside the local Super 8 motel. However, here are a few from our early hikes…more to come!

Bryce Canyon


Zion – Angel’s Landing Hike

South Sierra Wilderness

Fresh powder just south of Olancha Peak (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Following a couple days in Vegas that can best be described as “attempted debauchery”, we steered the car towards the Sierra Nevada for some time in the mountains. In case you haven’t been regularly checking the snowpack reports through any number of government-run websites (and why not?), here’s a one word description of what the Sierra Nevada is like this year: buried.  This has been a record year for snowfall in the Sierra, which means we get to deal with some cold conditions if we want to hike there. We set up camp for the first night at a campground in Lake Isabella, CA, where we witnessed the following sights:

Tillie Creek campground at sunset (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Great Blue Heron at sunrise (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Since we had no idea where to go or what to do, we decided to seek help from the folks at the Kernville, CA ranger station.  Shout out to Alex for steering us to the South Sierra Wilderness, an area that includes the Inyo and Sequoia National Forests.  He also handed us a weather report that looked something like this:

  • Cold
  • Snowy
  • Windy like you wouldn’t believe
  • You’re not going to be very happy out there
  • Are you sure about this?
  • OK, well have fun, city boys
Things started out looking nice – a little chilly, but nothing we couldn’t handle.  Our first day’s hike took us through an area that had been impacted by a significant fire several years back.  Here’s Justin seeming pretty happy about the destruction around him:

Justin, pack, rock, burned trees (Photo: Nathan Fry)

As we neared our first campsite, some light snow started falling, and the wind began to whip a little more – certainly nothing we couldn’t handle, especially since we were still moving.  But as we set up camp, it started to become more clear – this was going to be a cold night.  Neither of us slept particularly well, as our elevated campsite with little protection from the wind was apparently not the smartest choice.  But we persevered, and Nathan was still looking pretty happy (if a little goth) the following morning:

Nathan the goth (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Our second day had us heading above 10,000 feet to set up a base camp near Olancha Peak.  It was a tough hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, with trails that haven’t been completely cleared or re-marked for the through-hiking crowd that will arrive in a few weeks.  The weather was also quite chilly, with steady winds and temperatures nearing freezing as we reached camp.  After a long day on the trail, we set up camp in the most sheltered place we could find, headed out to take some pictures, and quickly ran back to the tent to avoid losing any fingers or toes.

Cold trees (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Unsurprisingly, our second night wasn’t much more restful than our first.  Between Justin’s deflating sleeping pad, gusty winds, and around 5 inches of overnight snowfall, sleep was once again elusive.  Nathan’s layering scheme was something like this:

  • Upper
    • Short sleeve wool base layer
    • Synthetic mid layer
    • Puffy jacket
    • Rain jacket
  • Lower
    • Synthetic underwear
    • Long John’s
    • Wool pants
    • Rain pants
  • Miscellaneous
    • Two pairs of heavy synthetic socks
    • Gloves
    • Beanie
    • Garbage bag over foot of sleeping bag, just to remind him of his bed at home

Second campsite (Photo: Nathan Fry)

We awoke to a campsite that was well covered in fresh snow, and decided that perhaps that 12,000 foot peak didn’t sound so appealing after all.  We did what any two self-respecting 20-something males would do, and beat a hasty retreat back to the car.  18 miles, 8 hours, and a good hailstorm later, we were at the trailhead and ready for civilization again.

View on the way down (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Our exit amidst the hail (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

We write this from the home of our friends Dan and Carrie in the Bay Area (thanks for showing us a great time and letting us stay with you!).  After a few days with Justin’s family, we’ll be back on the road.  We have no idea where we’re headed next, but stay tuned…
Also, if any of you have any suggestions about what you’d like to see in future posts, please let us  know in the comments (e.g. more pictures of us, more pictures/fewer pictures, more info about the details of backpacking such as what we carry with us, what we eat, how we cook, etc).

Nathan shooting...something (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

South Sierra Wilderness (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

South Sierra Wilderness (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

South Sierra Wilderness (Photo: Nathan Fry)

South Sierra Wilderness (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Impending storm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (Photo: Nathan Fry)

The open highway leaving the Sierras (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Following Zion, we pointed the car southeast towards the Grand Canyon. There we spent a total of three nights in the canyon. We began our descent in what can best be described as confusing weather. Certainly neither of us expected to hike the Grand Canyon when it was 30 degrees and snowing/sleeting… but that’s what we got! The hike into the canyon was steep and difficult, with slick, loose rocks underfoot. However, we are steady on our feet like mountain goats, and strong like bears, so we made it down without a problem. We also have trekking poles, which doesn’t hurt. Our first night we set up camp on a sheer rock ledge. It was an interesting night, with consistently strong wind gusts making us very glad we tied the tent down well.

The hike down the Grandview Trail (Photo: Nathan Fry)

First Grand Canyon campsite (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Days two and three involved us making our way west on the East Tonto Trail. The hiking was generally pretty easy, but scarce water sources forced us to be vigilant about conserving water and making sure to refill whenever we had the chance. These two days on the Tonto Trail also gave us our first real feeling of solitude of our trip, as we did not see one other person over the 24 miles we traversed. Another fun tidbit: on day three, while attempting to crouch low for a picture of a cactus rose, Justin fell over backwards into another cactus resulting in him being stuck with hundreds of tiny (and quite painful) cactus thorns from his armpit to his knee. Not to worry though, he was able to capture a mediocre picture of the offending plant after getting up from the ground.

Justin pulling out cactus thorns (Photo: Nathan Fry)

The rose shot... not worth it (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Our second evening provided an incredible sunset. Even though we couldn’t actually see the sun, there was a short window where it looked like the clouds overhead were on fire. The below photograph really doesn’t adequately capture what this looked like, but suffice it to say this was a scene like nothing either of us had ever seen before.

Fiery sunset (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Our third night was warm and calm enough that we decided to not pitch our tent, and instead put our sleeping pads and bags on top of the tent’s footprint. It was a beautiful night to sleep under the stars, even despite some (somewhat adorable) mice trying to break into our packs.

The final campsite (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Our final day began bright and early, with a 4:30 wakeup. We had a total of 6 miles that day, finishing with a 3,500 foot ascent up the canyon. Getting up early allowed us to beat the heat, finishing around 8 AM. From there we got back to our car after hitching a 15 mile ride, and headed to Las Vegas. After a couple of fun days there in relative civilization, we’re now headed to the Inyo National Forest in California, and then off to the Bay Area. Next update then!

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Nathan on the ledge (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Justin on the ledge (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Nathan whispering to the water (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Zion National Park

Zion National Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Not going to beat around the bush here – Zion is one of the most scenic places either of us has ever seen. This was our first extended backcountry hike of the trip. Starting on Wednesday afternoon we hiked approximately 40 miles through the desert, up over mountains and into canyons.

Zion National Park (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Our longest day was Thursday, which consisted of hiking 15 miles over a period of 9.5 hours in the hot sun. That total includes the 1.5 hours it took for us to find our way back to the trail after a wrong turn, putting us a mile off the path in the middle of the desert. Nathan even ended up in quicksand at one point, something neither of us saw coming.  He managed to make it out, in case you were wondering.

Justin on the West Rim (Photo: Nathan Fry)

We spent our final night in Zion at campsite #2 on the West Rim trail – one of the most amazing camping experiences imaginable. It was just a few hundred feet above an 800-foot cliff overlooking the valley floor. The light from the sunset was perfect and the morning sunrise was just as great. Plus we had a bunch of lizards and deer wandering through camp all night long.  Justin even had some rodent friends break into his snack bag overnight when he forgot to lock them away in our odor proof bag.  We hope they enjoyed the M&Ms and popcorn… little bastards.

The view from West Rim camp site #2 (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

The last hurrah was a short jaunt out to Angel’s Landing. It’s basically a half-mile rock scramble with a thousand feet of sheer exposure to each side…a great way to start the morning!

Nathan atop Angel's Landing (Photo: Some Guy from California)

Nathan needs new socks, please send help (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Moonset over Zion's West Rim (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Boots! (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Campsite #13 at La Verkin Creek (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Justin hiking towards Angel's Landing (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Zion Canyon (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Zion Canyon (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Bryce Canyon National Park

After Arches, we made the 5 hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. This was our first hiking test in which we spent two days in the backcountry. On Monday we hiked a long 12.7 miles ending with a 1,300 foot descent to take us to our isolated campsite. We made our first backcountry meal with the camp stove: Beef Chili Mac and Blueberry dessert, courtesy of JJ Christopher.

Bryce Canyon Nat'l Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Nathan in Bryce Canyon (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

The obvious problem with that long descent was that we had to do it in reverse the next morning. After waking up around 5, we started hiking out of the canyon at 6 and made it all the way back to the car by 11…no elderly couples to show us up this time. We took a different route so only 10 miles on the way back!

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater Region (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Bryce Canyon Hat Shop (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Arches National Park

We finally found some time at a coffee shop with wi-fi so we could update everyone on our travels. We rolled into Utah on Friday night and camped by the Colorado River in Moab. Justin wasted no time locating our first water source / quicksand pit.

Justin Khalifa playing in the dirt in Moab, UT (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Moab, UT (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Moab Sunset (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

We spent the next day hiking around Arches National Park doing a challenging 7 mile hike in record time. We were pretty full of ourselves until we crossed paths with the couple in their 70’s who were easily handling the same trek we’d just finished.

 Arches Nat’l Park (Photo: Justin Khalifa)

Justin in Arches (Photo: Nathan Fry)

Hiking to Private Arch in Arches Nat'l Park (Photo: Nathan Fry)