OIA petitions for Canyonlands protection; CNN’s list of cliffside hotels fraudulent

7 breathtaking cliffside hotels: CNN.com
The Grand Canyon Lodge gets no love. Weaksauce.

Outdoor retailers asking Obama for national monument: Salt Lake Tribune.com
Backcountry.com, OIA and others are asking for 1.4 million acres around Canyonlands to be protected.

Time for Secretary Salazar to Save California’s First Marine Wilderness Area: Huffington Post.com
Point Reyes, Drake’s Bay should be made designated wilderness. Surprised it isn’t already.

Google Trekker: good or bad for the outdoors?

I’m all for more people having access to the American backcountry, provided they’re prepared for it or hire people who are.

Google Trekker could help people better understand the terrain of the country’s most storied canyon when it publicizes its trail-level view of the Bright Angel – South Kaibab loop in a few months. I also believe that introducing more people to such a stunning corner of our country will help encourage interest, support and tourism. Yes, there are benefits. It certainly can’t hurt to get a lay of the land before strapping on your pack.

Or can it?

There’s no use in counting the number of pictures and books and shows and movies that have been produced about or contain imagery from the Grand Canyon. Suffice to say, there’s plenty. Even the most technologically unsound of us can visit a library and discover enough forms of media to encourage a visit or heck, even send a check to any number of organizations that help preserve the wild nature of the Colorado River’s most photographed masterpiece.

One of my fears about making even these very popular — but nonetheless stunning — trails a product of Google is that they become instantly ubiquitous, something so easy it can be put on the Internet. This stance is reflected clearly in the words of Maureen Oltrogge, head of public affairs for Grand Canyon National Park, who spoke to Outside Magazine about it, saying, “It could give you a false sense of security. This can be an unforgiving environment.”

Google Maps is meant to make things easy. Exact directions are provided from door to door and with Street View, we even know the color of the door knob. No doubt such a form of proactive bread-crumbing is convenient for getting across unfamiliar cities or checking out the big house your sister just bought.

What automated mapping doesn’t do is detail all the arbitrary hazards along the way. The red-light runners , the texters and the faulty street lights.

But in the Grand Canyon, the potholes are a lot deeper.

I’m willing to confess that some of this tech-angst comes from a disdain for our increasing reliance on electronic navigation. Above my desk sits a 48” laminated Imus Geographics map of the United States. I love knowing where every place is in relation to other places. I want the big picture of where I want to be. I just can’t fathom having it all condensed down to a 4” screen of only what lies directly ahead of me. I want to be surprised by the backdrop and intimidated by the discovery of new places. If I’m staring at a mobile service-dependent, finger-scrollable square of a wilderness like the Grand Canyon, then well, where in the hell is the drama of letting the wilderness unfold as you go?

Let’s not forget the commercial advantages to Google’s capturing of the canyon’s trails. Since the banana yuccas and century plants and Utah junipers will be on camera, they become content around which Google can sell ads. And since the search giant’s organic search algorithms have become increasingly complex to unravel, companies just spend money on ads to bypass the confusion. Don’t think Google doesn’t know this. After all, it knows everything.

Then again, maybe GoPro and social media has already done what I think Trekker may do. Helmet-mounted cameras have made slabby, backcountry powder stashes seem as safe as a McDonald’s ball crawl (lice and flu germs notwithstanding) and Mavericks into just another tough paddle out. So maybe Google is already behind and I’m complaining about the inevitable, like wolf delisting and Nancy Pelosi revealing herself as an undead Wiccan demon.

It probably won’t be so bad, I guess, to have the trails mapped so diligently. Augmented reality could help identify rock layers and flora, and even some of the temples and buttes. That would be cool.

What do you think, is trail-level mapping of the backcountry a good thing? Or is broadband best used for Gangnam Style parodies and outdoor blogs?

Inexperienced Grand Canyon fastpacking becoming a problem

An accomplished ultra-marathoner died in the heat of Death Valley this week. Michael Popov was only 34 and recognized for hammering through some of the longest and most rugged trails across the west. His last run was less than ten miles.

I’ve hiked rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon six times since early March. Three of those trips were in May, when the summer heat starts to ripple up from the canyon floor and coat the corridor trails in a thick haze of shimmering, translucent fire. I was surprised then to come across so many unprepared fastpackers attempting the under 24-hour rim-to-rim trek.

The experienced ultra-runners are easily identified from the fastpackers who happen to read about Andrew Skurka and then decide they want to be Andrew Skurka. I spoke to more than a few of them while offering extra food and water while they suffered trailside from the many effects of dehydration and stupidity. They would be cramped and nauseous in an alcove along the North Kaibab Trail or trying to recover under the shade of a tapeats shelf on the Bright Angel. Each time, a single, searing similarity stood out to me: none of them were Andrew Skurka.

From crashing with a mat and an emergency blanket along the trail or scaring the rafting guests at Phantom Ranch with convulsive vomiting over the steps of the canteen, the number of unprepared, not ready for primetime rim-to-rim trekkers is growing to an uncomfortable number.

More than a couple of rangers confirmed for me that beyond the safety issues they create, there’s the ever-growing trail of trash left behind in an effort to shed weight, countless forgotten water bottle stashes and evidence of damaged desert plant life as a result of temporary campsites.

Michael Popov was an accomplished beast of a runner and it took the heat less than 10 miles to claim him. It was a terrible way for an obviously tough-as-granite athlete to go. And sure, Death Valley gets hotter than the Inner Canyon; but on some days, not by much. Then there’s the unrelenting switchbacks, drop-offs and occasional pipeline breaks.

The most egregiously unprepared fastpacker I came across was a guy passing our group between the Three Mile and Mile-And-A-Half Rest Houses along the Bright Angel Trail. He told me he was hustling to get a mule for his sick friend.

Apparently, using all the excess funds and people and resources available to them suddenly, the National Park Service established a fastpacker SAR mule service, complete with genetically-enhanced-for-speed horse and donkey crossbreeds that can span the distance between rim and river in under an hour while burdened with a fully equipped ER doctor, which is what this guy needed because he said his friend had heat stroke.

I tried to confirm. “Heat stroke. You’re sure.” Yes. “Where is she?” Down at Indian Garden. “You know there’s a ranger and a helipad there, right?” Crickets. “You know you already passed an emergency phone, right?” Tumbleweed.

As his brain attempted to process the possibility that maybe he hadn’t fully thought out his rim to rim trek all that well, a woman walked between us up the trail.

“That’s her,” he said. Of course it is.

I assured him she was fine, probably in need of some sodium and liquids, but otherwise okay.

I can only imagine what rangers have to deal with sometimes.

Image from wvultrarunner.blogspot.com