Gear Review: Manduka eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat…

Yoga gear and apparel provider, Manduka (@MandukaYoga) recently started a regular contest on their Facebook Page for 2012.  The nature of their “Happy YOU Year” contest is to “Tell us what you plan to do, or be, in 2012” and every day that week they were giving “a Manduka gift to help that intention become reality“.  An amazing and honorable, well-intentioned promotion that I really thought had a great message behind it.  So I entered a comment explaining my plan to bring Yoga Practice to the hiking and backpacking community to promote better health and fitness.  Well, my story won their attention on that particular day and they announced they were sending me their lightweight travel mat!  This was the perfect choice to help bring Yoga to the trail.

The eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat is made of natural tree rubber and is a 100% “biodegradable rubber that won’t fade or flake” and offers “superior grip“.  The mat is very light for a Yoga mat (2lbs) and is as flexible as a towel or blanket.  It easily folds, rolls or wraps up into any duffel, case or backpack.  They come in a variety of colors and all have the awesome “Upward Frog” Manduka logo.  The mat doesn’t offer a great deal in the way of padding, but it’s the trade-off for having the luxury of being able to take the mat virtually anywhere.

I’ve been able to use the mat several times now, some inside just to try it and some outside. I’ve only had it out on the trail once so far and I loved it.  It was just enough padding to soften the rock outcropping I used it on.  It also packed easily, I simply folded it in half and then rolled it like a bed-roll and strapped it in to the pack where the bed-roll would usually go – perfect!  I imagine being able to use it as an extra layer under an inflatable sleeping pad on overnight trips.  It would protect the inflatable from potential puncture issues and the grip would keep things from sliding around in the tent.  And it would be there waiting for me in the morning for some nice tent-side Sun Salutations!

So far I am really happy with this generous gift from Manduka and would recommend it to anyone interested in making trail-side Yoga a part of their hiking and camping experience.

Manduka eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat – $39

Manduka Sojourner Package – $60 (normally $75)

Soldier Pass and Brin’s Mesa Trails- Sedona, Arizona

Red Rocks from Soldier Pass - Sedona, Arizona

“This here…”, he said pointing to my map sprawled across the table. “..This here is the sink hole, Devil’s Kitchen.  We just came back from there.  Even if you don’t do the trail, it’s worth checking out….only a hundred yards or so up from the trailhead.”

Devil’s Kitchen is the ominous name given to the only sink hole in the Sedona area.  It sits right at the base of a small peak, known as The Sphinx, that marks the beginning of Soldier Pass Trail.  I had stopped in to what has become my regular pre-hike stop to seek trail suggestions and get updates on road and trail conditions around Sedona.  The Hike House has only been around about a year and half, but seems to have a very passionate, knowledgeable and helpful staff.  I’ve stopped in here before every hike in this area since my first hike up Mund’s Wagon Trail. As I was reviewing trail suggestions, an older couple walked in who had just returned from hiking Soldier Pass that morning and were more than happy to offer their vote for the trail.

“It’s really something to see…”, the older gentleman went on about the sink hole. “…all the rock just lying there where it collapsed probably thousands of years ago.  Worth a look.”

So, with multiple endorsements for Soldier Pass and an opportunity to make it a more substantial hike by combining the entirety of the Brin’s Mesa Trail, I folded up my trusty map and headed out.  Easily enough, the parking lot and trailhead for Soldier Pass Trail (and several connected trails) is just up Soldier Pass Road off of the main drag heading west from Sedona.  A short drive through a small subdivision delivers you to a modest, gated parking area that defines the trailhead to Soldier Pass.  It’s a well maintained dirt parking area with defined parking stalls, signs and maps but I can see how it’s dozen or so vehicle capacity would be grossly inadequate during peak season.  From what I’ve heard, this place is literally crawling with tourists hiking and biking the trails during the peak season.

Soldier Pass - Sedona, ArizonaThere were a handful of cars in the parking lot when I arrived.  Mid-morning, mid-week, off-season I didn’t expect to see a lot of people out but I knew I wasn’t going to be completely alone on the trail.  The morning was a beautiful 67 degrees when I hopped out of the truck and packed a few essentials, and non-essentials, into my new Osprey Exos34 (yes, I am testing out a new pack and so far loving it).  I slung the new pack over my shoulders and took a few minutes to adjust it properly for it’s maiden voyage then headed out.  Just as you get started there is a plaque on a boulder stating the trail was dedicated in 1995.  The trail’s construction, signage, and markers were apparently a cooperative effort between the Friends of the Forest and the Famous Red Rock Jeep Tours.  A short walk down the well maintained trail quickly brings you face to face with the Devil’s Kitchen.  I really wished I’d been properly equipped with a good wide-angle lens in order to capture the gaping hole properly.  Aside from the hole itself, the most significant feature is a huge triangular-shaped slab of stone that collapsed in one massive chunk around 1970 and is often referred to as The Grand Piano.  Contrary to the dramatic “…all the rock just lying there where it collapsed probably thousands of years ago” promise, reports are that the sink hole collapsed sometime in the 1880’s.

coffee pot from Soldier Pass - Sedona, Arizona

I spent a few short minutes trying desperately to capture the sink hole properly with my insufficient equipment before giving up and moving on to Soldier Pass Trail.  In the 1860’s and 70’s, General Crook and his men would make camp along this trail down in the wash.  They would use the area as a resting point to hunt and fish on their way up from Fort Verde (now Camp Verde) and called the area Camp Garden.  General Crook used an existing Apache trail leading up over the pass to raid the Apache food stores in an effort to roost them out of the area and coax them into moving to the Reservation.  In later years, Soldier’s Pass would be used by local ranchers to move their cattle out of the canyon and up to cooler elevations during the warmer months.

I plodded along the trail happily soaking up the late morning sun and enjoying being on the trail.  I walked right past where the Seven Sacred Pools are supposed to be…mainly because I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for and partly because there is no water this time of year.  So the Seven Sacred Pools are more like the Seven Sacred Dimples in the sandstone and were thus, missed.  There is a point about a half mile or so in where the trail seems to split.  One trail clearly heading in toward the canyon and the other trail heading up.  As I walked along Soldier’s Pass, higher along the trail I remember looking east toward several significant natural arches in the cliff-side and thinking, “damn, I wish I could get over there and check those out.”  Turns out, you can!  The trail I saw that seemed to lead into the canyon is a short hike to the arches/caves in the side of the cliff below Brin’s Mesa.  I WILL have to go back to check those out.

coffee pot from Soldier Pass - Sedona, Arizona

Soldier Pass is a relatively easy trail, the beginning of the trail is not much more than a pleasant walk in scenic country.  But the trail does reach a point where you are climbing pretty steadily to traverse the pass.  It’s at this point where the views become impressive.  Looking back the way you came, the view opens into a wide panorama of the Sedona Valley.  You get a full view down the valley into Oak Creek Canyon, across the airport plateau, and beyond.  There are also a ton of great spots to stop and have lunch, rest, enjoy the view and snap off a few pictures.  However, I imagine this area is uncomfortably crowded in the peak tourist season and I wouldn’t stop here.

Sedona Brins Mesa Trail - Sedona, Arizona

Brin’s Mesa Trail…

Once up and over the pass it’s a short slightly downhill walk to the intersection with the Brin’s Mesa Trail.  This trail climbs from FR152 on the west end up the mesa and around the ridge the that dominates the east side of Soldier Wash.  Soldier Pass Trail hits Brin’s Mesa Trail just about in the middle.  Heading right, takes you up across the mesa and down Mormon Canyon to Jordan/Cibola Trails where you can cut back to the Soldier Pass trailhead and parking area.  Heading left will take you out to FR152 and deeper into the Wilderness area.  I chose to add the miles and explore Brin’s Mesa Trail both directions, taking it out toward FR152 first and then returning back the same way past Soldier Pass and up the mesa.  Brin’s Mesa trail has a different character to the west, down the hill.  It repeatedly crosses a small tributary of Dry Creek and during the wet season would probably be a lot of fun.  As it is, the trail is very nice.  You spend most of your time in the trees, a rarity for most of Arizona, and the ground ranges from slightly rocky to soft sand.  This was an easy, quiet, pleasant hike and I found myself lost in my own thoughts, ambling freely down the trail simply enjoying the solitude.  Before I knew it I had reached FR152 and the end of the trail.  I unstrapped the pack, dug out a few snacks and plopped down on a slab of red sandstone for a quick break.  After helping a few lost hikers and bikers who weren’t quite sure where they were, I pulled my pack back on and headed up the trail.

In no time at all, it seemed, I was back at the intersection of Brin’s Mesa and Soldier Pass.  Someone had scrawled arrows in the loose dirt of the trail pointing in the direction of Soldier Pass.  Apparently, it easy to miss your turn if you are planning on heading the opposite way I went and down Soldier’s Pass.  The sign at this connection does show arrows for following both trails, so just pay attention to the signs and it shouldn’t be a problem.  I did run in to a few folks all the way at the far end of Brin’s Mesa Trail who were wondering how they missed Soldier Pass.

Getting higher up on to the Mesa you can see the remnants of trees burned out in the fire on Wilson Mountain in 2006.  Much of the undergrowth and many of the trees have started to come back, but there is still a great deal of dead sticks standing along the foothills of the mountain.  The dead trees I encountered along Brin’s Mesa are presumably casualties of the same 2006 fire.  The views from the mesa are fantastic and I found a perfect little knoll to the west of the trail that overlooks Soldier Wash Canyon to stop for a little mid-hike yoga practice.  This is the first time I have actually stopped mid-hike for yoga practice but the location was perfect and I had brought along my new light-weight Manduka travel mat just for this purpose.  The setting was perfect for it, I couldn’t pass it up.  I also found it to be incredibly effective for renewing my energy for the hike.  After my short break, I continued my hike across the mesa.  As the trail reaches the edge of the mesa, before plunging into Mormon Canyon, the view down the valley opens up again.  As before at Soldier Pass, this is the photographer’s vantage point.  Take time here to snap off a few impressive shots.

The climb descending down into Mormon Canyon was similar to Soldier Pass, it was a quick descent that mellowed out and turned into an easy path.  It quickly crawled through the trees offering glimpses of Cibola Rock and Steamboat Rock, the two dominant rock formations above this the trail.  It connects to Cibola Trail just before the Jordan Trail Parking lot.  This parking lot is paved and much larger than the Soldier Pass parking lot with bathrooms.  If the Soldier Pass lot is full, one could easily park here and traverse Cibola trail before heading up Soldier Pass.

Cibola trail is a nice short connector trail that cuts across a low pass to join Jordan Trail which I took back to the trailhead at Soldier Pass.  It starts off easy enough but has a bit of a climb in the middle to get over the pass.  It’s not difficult, nor long but it was described by an older lady I encountered on the trail as “a strenuous hike”, so I guess it’s all relative.  I ended the hike in great spirits, happy to have spent the afternoon on the trail and looking forward to a beautiful Nut Brown Ale from Oak Creek Brewery.  The perfect way to end a day of hiking in Sedona.

 

Soldier Pass to Brin’s Mesa – Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Some trailhead parking. From Sedona take Highway 89A west to Soldier Pass Road.  There is a small, gated parking area and a Red Rock Pass purchase booth at the trailhead.  The parking area closes at 6PM.

Trail Length: 8.8 mile round-trip (as described here)
Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Open:
Year-round but very crowded during peak season.

 

 

Devil’s Bridge – Sedona, Arizona…

The Devil’s Bridge is a small natural bridge located in the Secret Canyon area of Sedona, Arizona.  Even if it doesn’t offer the grandeur of some of the more famous sandstone arches, it’s still the largest natural stone arch around Sedona.  The trail is located a few miles up FR152, a sketchy dirt road that can easily be impassable in, or after, bad weather and which is often closed when there’s snow.  Even dry, the dirt road is rocky, uneven, narrow in places with patches of deep sand.  A 4-wheel-drive is usually recommended but I did see plenty of 2-wheel-drive weekend warriors making their way out there with little trouble.

I had to travel to Sedona for work, and after my morning meeting had a few hours to kill.  Not nearly enough time to get in a good long hike in the back-country around Sedona, but enough time to hit a small target like Devil’s Bridge.  The total trail isn’t much more than a mile round trip.  After paying for my Red Rock Pass, I wanted to add a little more distance on to the hike, so I drove a short ways down 152 and found a good spot to park my truck so I could hoof-it the rest of the way to the trailhead.  For those who wouldn’t want to add the mileage, there is a small area at the trailhead to park maybe 5 or 6 cars off the road.  The trailhead is clearly marked and the trail itself is very well established.

The hike was little more than a walk, but a nice walk in incredibly scenic country.  It is a consistent and gradual uphill climb twisting along a fairly wide path with the occasional stone ledge cutting the trail.  After a short hike up the trail, you enter the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness area.  This is right about the time you can get your first glimpse of the natural bridge from the trail.  It doesn’t look like much from out along the trail, the real drama of the arch is experienced up close.

Stacked stone stairs…

The trail forks as it approaches the arch.  The left trail wanders down easily to the bottom of the Natural Bridge formation.  I didn’t go this way.  The trail to the right climbs very quickly to a ledge that allows you to approach the bridge from above.  The trail literally climbs a series of stone stairs stacked into the cliff-side to reach the top.  It’s actually a really well made and maintained trail that leads to the top and brings you up close and personal with the top of Devil’s Bridge.  As a Winter hike, this spot spends almost the entire day in shadow and can get pretty cold.  It was almost 70 degrees out when I hiked this trail, but in the shadow of the adjacent ridge there was still ice on part of the trail that had not melted away from the previous month’s snowfall.  As most of the other hikers ambled along in their jackets and sweaters I bounded up the steps in my t-shirt and shorts in an effort to keep the cold from getting to me.

Once at the top, getting cold in the shadow of the mountain, phone/camera dying, running out of time, I really wished I had planned better and could spend a couple of hours here.  I would have liked to explore the arch, take my time getting some really nice photos and maybe even have lunch.  Instead, I snapped a couple of pictures until my phone died completely, then headed back.

Maybe next time…

Devil’s Bridge – Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Some trailhead parking. From Sedona take Highway 89A west to Dry Creek Road.  Look for FR 152 on the right, there is a small parking area and a Red Rock Pass purchase booth.  You can hike from here or drive the 1.5 miles or so to the trailhead parking area.

Trail Length: 1 mile round-trip (from the trailhead)
Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Open:
Year-round but road may be closed in poor weather.

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Gear Review: Brooks PureGrit Trail Running Shoe – Part 1…

Instead of patiently waiting until I’ve been able to put some miles on these shoes to fully field test them before starting my review, I will be breaking the review up into 3 parts.  The first part will focus on the technology behind the shoe and what the manufacturers profess about it’s design and construction as well my personally first impressions of the shoe.  The second part will describe the actual time, mileage and conditions of the field testing and summarize the shoe’s performance.  The third part will layout my final conclusions and pit the actual performance against the manufacturer’s claims.  So, without further adieu…

PureProject – PureGrit Trail Runner

Part 1

Specifications

  • Midsole Height:  Heel (15 mm), Forefoot (11 mm)
  • Outsole Height:  Heel (3 mm), Forefoot (3 mm)
  • Heel-to-Toe Offset:  4 mm
  • Tooling Height:  Heel (18 mm), Forefoot (14 mm)
  • Weight:  8.9 oz (M’s) / 7.6 oz (W’s)
  • Surface: Offroad/Trail
  • Pronation: None/Normal, Mild, Moderate
  • Build: Small, Medium, Large
  • Competition: Trail racing
  • Arch: Flat, Medium, High
  • Performance: Light Weight
  • Category: Trail
Technologies

Design

Brooks designers worked with ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, to develope a unique one-piece outsole that has a concave shape. According to their website, “When forces are applied, the piece splays out to provide a more balanced lay-down.” This dynamic outsole and unique lug design are intended to help the runner find better grip and balance on the trail.  Also built-in to the new outsole is a split toe design meant to allow independent function of the big toe for more natural balance and stronger push-off.  Brooks also boasts their outsole is, “Designed from the most detailed anatomical form…” which is intended to create unparalleled fit and feel.

The PureProject midsole offers a minimal 4mm drop and made of  “earth-loving BioMoGo technology blended with the responsive ride of Brooks® DNA”.  BioMoGo technology is brooks biodegradable midsole composite that “degrades 50 times faster than the standard midsole“.  Brooks DNA is a responsive midsole system that immediately adjusts to the runner’s size and stride as well as offering 30% more cushioning than standard midsoles and 2x the energy return.  Built into the midsole design is a new minimalist heel designed to encourage the runner’s, “contact points to shift forward, aligning your center of gravity for optimal spring.”

The PureGrit upper has had just as much thought put into its design as the rest of the shoe.  The upper is made of an ultralight, breathable mesh over a die-cut conforming foam for a firm fit.  Their Nav Band is an elastic band built into the upper that stretches across the instep to insure a glove-like fit and security while you run.

As for durability, Brooks says, “Just like our core line, we hold PureProject to the industry’s highest weartest and durability standards. Because of their lightweight construction and fewer materials, runners should generally expect shoes from the PureProject line to last approximately 250-300 miles.

First Impressions

These shoes are incredibly light.  This is the closest thing to a minimalist running shoe I’ve tried on.  Brooks did a great job in material selection here, even thought they are lightweight they don’t feel weak.  So many lightweight shoes feel as though structure was sacrificed to lose the extra ounces which just won’t cut it in a trail runner.  The outsole feels like it would chew up the trail, but the soft midsole seems like it might not take the abuse so well.  Especially out here in Arizona where the trail comes at you from all sides.

I have not felt any significant difference in my run experience due to the toe split or the concave outsole, but in all honesty I have not had them on the trail yet.  I’ve had them out for a couple of short jogs around the streets here and they feel very comfortable with really no break-in period.  I have very high arches and typically have to spend some time breaking in new shoes so that they don’t kill the tops of my feet.  My PureGrits were immediately comfortable and after a couple of short runs I did not feel any pain, fatigue or hot-spots related to my arches.

I am, after only a few miles on these, feeling fatigue in my ankles.  My assumption is that the design of these shoes is doing something to alter my natural stride and alignment (hopefully correcting it!) and it’s causing some fatigue as my ankles adjust.

In short, I am impressed so far and can’t wait to get them on the trail.  Look for Part 2 – the Trail Test coming soon…

Yoga Practice for Hikers: The Downward Dog vs. The Cobra Pose…

We all love our outdoor pursuits, but hiking and backpacking can put unique strain on your body.  The forward bending posture and, often, prolonged uphill climbing creates stress in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.  Carrying a pack, even of light weight, puts strain on the upper back, shoulders and neck.  Then there’s the usual fatigue in the calves, ankles and arches of the feet that will happen to anyone who is on their feet for long periods of time.  There are two basic Yoga Asanas (Poses) that will specifically help stretch and strengthen all of these muscle groups to help reduce the risk of injury.

Both asanas are found in the Sun Salutation sequence.  If you followed my previous Yoga Practice for Hikers article you are already familiar with the Downward-Facing Dog and the Cobra Pose as they are both an integral part of that sequence.

The Downward-Facing Dog

Downward-Facing Dog Pose...

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) puts focus on strengthening the upper back while also stretching the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches and hands.  Holding this pose and moving through this pose also work to strengthen the arms and legs.  It is also said to be beneficial for digestion and relieves headaches, back ache, insomnia and fatigue.  For our purposes, we will be focused on the muscle contraction in the upper back at the apex of the pose, and getting as much of a stretch as is comfortable in the hamstrings, calves and arches while maintaining a tight core.

The Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose...

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) is used to strengthen the spine and stretch out the chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen.  At the deepest stretch in this pose it will also firm the glutes and stretch your quads.  Proper deep breathing in this pose will help to stretch and open the chest.  Cobra is supposed to stimulate the digestive organs, help relieve stress and fatigue, sooth the sciatic nerve and be therapeutic for Asthma.  We will be focused on keeping shoulders back and chest out, pushing the hips to the floor to strengthen the glutes and get a good stretch in the quads.

Alternate: The Upward-Facing Dog

Upward-Facing Dog Pose...

If you want to add focus to strengthening the arms and wrists, we can replace the Cobra Pose with Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).  The benefits and muscles affected are similar but the Upward-Facing Dog requires pushing up and forward, with the hands firmly planted, using the arms, shoulders and upper back to hold the position.  There is a tendency to “hang” on the shoulders in this pose, which compresses the neck and lowers the chest.  Be mindful of your posture here, shoulders should be drawn back toward the tailbone lengthening the neck.  Head should be straight, looking forward, or slightly bent back.

Putting it to practice…

Now I’ll walk you through the sequence.  For those of you who have done Hindu Push-ups, this will be very similar.  As always, you should start in a relaxed position (either seated or standing) and practice proper Yoga breathing until your mind is calm, focused and present.  You can actually use the beginning of the Sun Salutation sequence to get into position:

  1. When ready, bring your palms together at your chest, thumbs resting against your sternum (Mountain Pose). Exhale.
  2. Inhale and raise your arms stretched above your head, shoulders back and pelvis forward (slight backward bend in your spine) (Forward Salute Pose).
  3. Exhale and bend your knees slightly, bending at the waist and keeping your back straight, lower your hands to touch the mat on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
  4. Inhale and move your right foot back, knee touching the floor (Lunge).
  5. In pause between breaths, move your left foot back, both knees on the floor (or into Plank Position – THIS IS OUR STARTING POSITION).
  6. Exhale and raise your tailbone, straightening your arms and legs, pushing your chest toward your feet and your heals toward the ground (Downward Dog Position).  Focus on knitting your shoulder blades together, upper back tight, chest out, shoulders back and arms straight.  Keep your neck in line with your torso (spine straight).  Feel the full stretch in your glutes, hamstrings, calves and arches.  Do NOT force the stretch beyond what is comfortable.  The pose should not hurt.  You may hold this pose for several breaths if you like, but continue proper, controlled breathing with your core strong.
  7. Exhale and slowly lower your chest and nose to within an inch or two of the mat, your hands firmly planted and elbows in close to the body (Chaturanga or Four-Limbed Staff Pose).  Your knees may touch the mat if you prefer.  You can pause at this position briefly or you can glide through this pose and straight in to Cobra Pose.  If you will be moving into Upward-Facing Dog instead of Cobra, keep your legs straight here and do not let your knees touch the floor.
  8. Inhale and lower pelvis while pushing the chest up, arms supporting the posture and shoulders back (Cobra Position).  Focus on knitting the shoulder blades again with your chest out and shoulders back.  Don’t worry about forcing your back to arch uncomfortably, but focus more on keeping your shoulders back, head up, and pushing your hips to the ground.  The arch should be held using the back muscles, not by pushing with your arms (unless you are using Forward-Facing Dog here).  Feel the stretch in your quads.  If you are comfortable with it, roll off the balls of your feet and point your toes.  This will move you forward a little and deepen the stretch.  Breathe deeply in this position opening the chest and lungs.
  9. Exhale and raise your tailbone, straightening your arms and legs, pushing your chest toward your thighs again and your heals toward the floor returning to Downward Dog Position.  Repeat steps 6 through 8.

To come out of the exercise, reverse steps 1 through 5 until you are back in Mountain Pose.  This sequence is as much a strength training exercise as it is a stretch and I treat it as I would push-ups (Hindu Push-ups).  So, for pre-hike stretch I would maybe do 15 or 20 of these to warm up.  If your breathing becomes too forced and erratic, you are working too hard…reduce the reps or slow down.  Remember to maintain controlled movements, slower is better.  You should not be throwing your body into any of these postures, you should move into them naturally.  As you practice, the postures will feel more natural and comfortable as your strength and flexibility improve.

Camelback Mountain Summit via Cholla Trail…

East view from the Saddle near the Heli-Pad...

Camelback Mountain sits firmly in the middle of the Phoenix Metro area and is bordered by Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.  It’s central location and prominent shape make it incredibly enticing, attracting over 300,000 recreational visitors each year.  Located on the north side of Camelback Mountain is a shallow cave, or grotto, where the ancient Hohokams practiced religious rituals.  This fact, coupled with the mountain’s mystique have led some to refer to Camelback as the Sacred Mountain.  During the late 1800s, the federal government reserved Camelback Mountain for an Indian reservation.  By the 1940’s most of the land had fallen to private ownership. Gary Driggs, a local resident with a close association with the mountain, has fought to protect the mountain, successfully, since the early 1950’s.  The area has been off-limits to developers since the mid 1968, thanks to Driggs and the  Preservation of Camelback Mountain Foundation led by Barry Goldwater.  A ceremony was held in 1968 in honor of the mountain’s preservation and was attended by President Johnson (the First Lady was said to have hiked Cholla Trail in high heals).  The Phoenician, a world-famous resort built-in 1988, sits right at the south-eastern base of the mountain and it’s golf course wraps around to the north-east side near the trailhead.

Camelback’s accessibility is what makes it so dangerous.  Novice hikers, weekend warriors and clueless urbanites have all flocked, at one time or another, to the mountain in the middle of the city for an easy afternoon workout in the sun.  Many of them come unprepared.  Camelback is no walk in the park and for those who arrive with insufficient water, improper footwear and a lack of respect may find themselves on the evening news.  Every year, rescue crews respond to dozens of calls of stranded, injured or missing hikers at Camelback Mountain.  People think that because the trails are in the city that there is somehow less danger here.  In the summer of 2009, rescue crews were called out to Camelback over a dozen times in a single day, most related to dehydration.

climbing the "spine"...

Access to the Cholla Trail requires parking roadside on 64th Street just north of Camelback Road.  This area fills up quick throughout the year so plan to add an extra couple of miles to your overall hike.  The trailhead is located about a half-mile down Cholla Lane on the south side of the road.  The beginning of the trail actually wraps around part of the Phoenician’s golf course.  Then you start your climb, gradual at first, up rock steps and a narrow trail.  At peak season much of this trail can be crowded forcing people to stop along the narrow path to let oncoming traffic by.

yes, those are people on the summit...

Once the rocky trail crawls around to the first lookout, you are at the eastern-most point on the trail and it cuts back to the west towards the summit.  Watch your footing through this area because even though the trail is well-worn and not technical, there is plenty of loose rock and uneven ground to twist an unsuspecting ankle.  On much of this trail, a bad step could send you reeling down the mountain, other times it may just mean a bad fall into an angry cactus.  The climb is consistently uphill, though not steep at this point.  Not until you’ve reached the saddle, about halfway up, does the trail become technical.  From the saddle, route finding is accomplished by following old painted blue dots on the occasional rock.  Following the dots, you climb up the spine of the mountain.  “Spine” is a good description of this ridge-line since it’s mostly jagged, broken granite jutting into the sky like vertebrae.  This portion of the hike is especially dangerous and I’ve known many hikers who have turned back.  If you suffer from even a marginal fear of heights, the trail to the summit can be too much.

If you’ve never done the hike before, the summit sort of sneaks up on you.  You’ve made climb after climb thinking “this is it!” only to see more climbing before you.  Then all of a sudden, there you are…with everyone else!  The Echo Canyon Trail also reaches the summit (from the west side) and you often find yourself on a very busy, crowded, chat-filled rock wondering where all these wheezing, sweat-soaked people came from.  The crowd is usually pretty eclectic.  Being in the middle of the city, you’ll have people in business clothes, Yoga gear, shorts, jeans, bathing suits and, yes, even in their underwear.  All tired, sweaty and happy to have reached the top in one piece.

I usually sit at the top for at least a few minutes, check my time, maybe take a picture or two and just enjoy the view.  The summit offers some amazing 360 degree views of the Phoenix area.  Timing your hike to be able to see a sunrise, or sunset from the mountain is a must in my book.  Whenever you hike it though, be sure you come prepared, have respect for the dangers on this mountain and try to leave it just the way you found it.

Sunrise from Camelback Mountain...

 

Cholla Trail at Camelback Mountain.

No trailhead parking. Street parking limited at Invergordon and 64th Street. Hikers must walk up the south side of Cholla Lane. Cholla Trail is only recommended for experienced hikers and has steep, rocky sections with drop-offs on both sides of the trail.

Trail Length: 1.5 miles (from the trailhead)
Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Open:
Oct. 1 to April 30 th: 7:30 a.m-5: 30pm
May 1 to Sept 30 th: 5:30 am- 7:30 pm

View Camelback Cholla Trail by wildernessdave on Breadcrumbs

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Yoga Practice for Hikers: Sun Salutation…

Young womanAs lovers of the outdoors, hikers and backpackers alike have a close, almost reverential relationship with the sun.  We love spending our days under the warmth of it’s rays, we use the sun for navigation, we plan our excursions around sunrise and sunset.  Our connection to the sun when we are outdoors is as tied to our survival as the air we breathe and the water we drink.  It is only fitting that the first posture (or asana) sequence we will review for Yoga Practice for Hikers is the Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutation.  According to many authorities, the Sun Salutation goes back over 2,500 years to Vedic times when it was used as ritual prostration to honor the dawn.  Tradition was to perform the ritual salutation outdoors, facing the sun for a complete 108 cycles.

This is a great sequence for practice outdoors because you are mostly on your hands and feet and it can be practiced with, or without, a mat.  Find a nice quiet place, free from distraction, on relatively level ground with room for the length of your body to stretch out.  Your hands will be supporting your weight at points, so make sure the ground around you is free of sharp objects that may hurt your palms.  If practicing in the morning, it is tradition to face east toward the rising sun.

Sun Salutation

Stand, relaxed, arms at your side and your feet together.  Breathe deeply (breathing should be through the nose as described in the Three Breath Practice.)

  1. When ready, bring your palms together at your chest, thumbs resting against your sternum (Mountain Pose). Exhale.
  2. Inhale and raise your arms stretched above your head, shoulders back and pelvis forward (slight backward bend in your spine) (Forward Salute Pose).
  3. Exhale and bend your knees slightly, bending at the waist and keeping your back straight, lower your hands to touch the mat on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
  4. Inhale and move your right foot back, knee touching the floor (Lunge).
  5. In pause between breaths, move your left foot back, both knees on the floor (or into Plank Position).
  6. Exhale and lower your chest and nose to the mat (Chaturanga or Four-Limbed Staff Pose).
  7. Inhale and lower pelvis while pushing the chest up, arms straight and shoulders back (Cobra Position).
  8. Exhale and raise your tailbone, straightening your arms and legs, pushing your chest toward your thighs and your heals toward the ground (Downward Dog Position).
  9. Inhale and bring your right foot forward again, left knee to the ground (Lunge).
  10. Exhale and bring your feet together, hands on the floor on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
  11. Inhale and with a straight back, slowly bring your hands up above your head, shoulders back, pelvis forward (Forward Salute Pose).
  12. Exhale and return to starting position (Mountain Pose).
12 Stations of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara)

12 Stations of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara)

Repeat these steps with your left foot for one full cycle.  Complete at least 3 cycles.  You can repeat your Sun Salutations for as long as you like, until your body feels warm, relaxed and flexible.  There are many variations of this asana, but the point is to master breathing through the movements and practicing proper form.  Do not move so fast as to allow sloppy posture, or so slow that you can not breathe in sequence with the movements.  You should feel the full stretch of each position before allowing yourself to transition to the next one.

This asana is a fantastic full-body warm up and is often used at the beginning of many Yoga workouts to get the blood flowing, the muscles warmed up and the body ready for more advanced work.  It is also a great sequence to practice first thing in the morning to wake the body and get the blood flowing after your night’s rest.  Consider practicing this sequence in front of your tent after a night camping trail-side, or to loosen up your body after a long car ride to a remote trailhead.

And don’t forget to BREATHE!

Yoga Practice for Hikers: The Importance of Breathing…

As you sit at your computer reading this article, I want you to be conscious of your breathing.  Consciously exhale long and easy through your nose, do not force the breath, just let it escape through your nostrils.  Feel it leave your body.  Then, begin to inhale.  Bring the air in through your nose at the same pace of your exhale, slow and deliberate but not forced.  Now pause for a moment.  Try it again.  Try counting this time as you slowly exhale, try to count slowly to at least 5 or 6.  Then inhale again, use the same count as you did for your exhale.  Repeat this process, and with each breath be mindful and conscious of your breathing.

Why is the way we breathe important?  Why do we breathe like this?  Practicing breathing in this way demands our focused attention, keeping our minds engaged in the moment.  Mindful, conscious breathing increases physiological awareness.  Focused, mindful breathing also reduces stress, strengthens the respiratory system, energizes your mind and body and focuses the brain on the now.  Breathing is an integral part of Yoga Practice and these breathing techniques, when used properly, can also help us on the trail when fighting fatigue, stress or altitude.

Posture is also important as we practice breathing.  Make sure you are comfortably seated with your spine straight and your arms and shoulders relaxed.  Your head should be balanced and in line with your spine.  Make sure your pelvis is tilted in line with your spine and your weight is evenly distributed and balanced.  Chest out and strong, shoulders relaxed and core solid.  Keeping this posture, continue your breathing practice from above.  Out through the nose (count if you need to), pause, then in through the nose (counting again) and pause.  Repeat.  You should be able to feel your muscles relax with each exhale and energize with each inhale.

Your mind should be on your breathing, noticing the subtle movements in your body as you practice.  If your mind wanders (which it will at first), don’t get frustrated.  Simply refocus, gently, bringing your mind back to the task at hand.  Try this exercise from YogaEverywhere.com:

The Three Breath Practice: By Jillian Pransky

You can practice Three Deep Conscious Breaths anywhere, anytime and as often as you wish. However, when you are just starting out, it can be helpful to follow these few simple steps to enhance the effectiveness of your practice. For more seasoned yoga practitioners, please skip down and begin at #4:

  1. Please stop whatever activity you are involved in so you can give your full attention to the breath. Over time you will be able to consciously breathe in any moment – while you are walking, talking, listening, working, waiting, or even eating, however, in the beginning, it’s good to stop what you’re doing so you can concentrate more easily.
  2. You can sit in a chair or on the ground with your back relaxed, but straight or stand with your weight distributed evenly on each foot.
  3. When you are new to the practice, and if you are in a safe environment, you may close your eyes so your attention is on the breath and not on outside activities and scenery. However, eventually, you actually want to do this practice with your eyes open, aware of your environment. This way, you learn to connect to your breath as you are moving regularly from moment to moment, engaged in the world around you.
  4. Relax and take a deep breath, slowly breathing through your nose, then breathe out again through your nose. Allow your mind to follow your breath in and back out of your body. You can focus on the tip of the nose where the breath enters and leaves or you can mentally follow the breath on its complete path in to and back out of the body.
  5. After you have completely exhaled, allow another natural breath to flow in. Don’t pull or suck the breath in, it will come to you naturally. Once you have a full breath in, exhale again without forcing or pushing the breath out. Allow all of the breath to empty from your lungs without jumping ahead to the next inhale. Simply rest your mind on the breath and feel its effects; observing and sensing. Stay relaxed and allow your awareness of the breath to be soft, not heavy with concentration.
  6. Each inhalation and exhalation is one cycle. Do three cycles and allow your mind to rest fully on the breath. You may notice that your mind wanders even after the first breath. When you notice that the mind has tripped out to your to-do-list, dissecting a past conversation, or balancing your check book, just acknowledge that you’ve been distracted and gently guide your mind back to your breath. The attitude in which you guide yourself back to the breath is KEY. So when you find yourself tripping out, just be humored, and with the warmth you’d offer your best friend, guide your mind back to the flow of your next breath. (We tend to go where we feel welcomed, to relax and expand more when we are not bullied.)
  7. After getting the hang of paying attention to Three Conscious Breaths bring the practice into your every day life as often as you can. You skip parts 1-3 and jump right to 4-6. Use this Three Breath Pause through out your day in any moment, when you are walking to your office, eating lunch, in a conversation with a friend, working on your computer, waiting on a line, stuck in traffic, when ever. You will find this practice transforming your day. And, eventually, you will find the “Pause” more accessible to you in those harder moments, like when you’ve just been insulted, or your child or parent is pushing your buttons, or anytime you feel your anger or irritation building.

Proper Breathing is not only an important part of your Yoga Practice, it’s a great way to reduce stress, quiet the mind and control the body.  It brings you fully into the moment, allowing you to completely connect with the present.  Whether it’s Yoga Practice, a short hike, a quiet moment outside or an afternoon at a breathtaking vista…mindful, conscious breathing can put you in the right mindset for a deeper, more meaningful experience.