Our trip to one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders definitely qualifies as an “adventure of a lifetime.” Although geologists debate the issue, the Colorado River is given much credit for “carving” the Grand Canyon over millions of years. That thought alone is staggering when one views the mile-deep canyon. The landscape, texture, and scope of this phenomenon is like nothing I’ve ever seen up-close-and-personal. The panorama is staggering and we visited only one section.
My friend Anne, her daughter Shayna, and myself approached the South Rim by car via Arizona 64 North off of Interstate 40 West just west of Flagstaff. The fifty-mile drive is interesting, but there’s no looming vista as one expects when approaching a mountain range, for example. In fact, we didn’t see the canyon itself until we arrived at the Bright Angel Lodge on the west side of Grand Canyon Village. After checking in and settling into our rooms we explored the walkway running behind the lodge. And there it was . . .
Rising early the next morning to prepare for our hike, I opened the drapes and was surprised by the solid covering of snow on everything. Didn’t they take that out of the forecast?
Apparently Mother Nature had other plans. We checked out of the lodge and slogged our luggage through the slush to Anne’s car, conveniently parked in front of the lobby.
The lady at the hiking help-desk recommended we take the Bright Angel Trail rather than the South Kaibab as we had planned. Although the 10-mile Bright Angel is 2.5 miles longer it is less steep and more protected from the weather.
And so we began our hike down in the snow fall. We were protected by jackets and additional ponchos which covered our packs as well as us.
The view of the canyon was completely obscured, but the snow was gorgeous and the winds were calm—an unusual phenomenon for the rim area.
By the time we reached the 1.5 mile rest house the snow had changed to rain. We were in and out of rain, and our ponchos, during the remainder of the hike. The only consistent aspect: our direction was always DOWN. Only for a brief distance at the bottom as we paralleled the Colorado River did we go up.
But I’m getting ahead of my story.
First let me say that everyone who hikes the canyon must do so at their own pace. I have this on good authority. Well, maybe I made it up, but I am nonetheless convinced.
Somewhere between the 1.5 mile and 3.0 mile rest houses, Shayna’s shoe sole came unglued. As we were trying to assess the damage, an up-going hiker provided enough duct tape to hold the soles in place.
It was shortly after the repair that I came up with my “own pace” theory and gradually fell behind. The two of them would wait for me down the trail and we would rest and repeat. By the time I caught up with them at the 3.0 mile rest house, the quick-fix on Shayna’s shoe was gone. Anne used the emergency phone and was given a code/pin to the emergency box. Among its treasures was a role of—you guessed it—white duct tape.
The boot crampons used earlier in the snow and ice were added to keep the shoe together and protect the duct tape from wearing away. Although you can see the weather in the distance, we were temporarily in a sunny patch. But don’t worry, more rain was in store. You can also see the step-like logs which vary in height and provide the greatest challenge in the down-ness.
So we resumed our little lag-behind-wait-catchup-rest-repeat regimen. Unfortunately, the weather and the “down-ness” was stressing my legs beyond expectation and I became slower and needed to rest more often.
Did I mention I have a bad hip? Actually I had one hip replaced in 2015 and have the other hip replacement scheduled for exactly four weeks after the Grand Canyon hike. I know. What was I thinking?
However, I will insert here that despite my pain and slowness and the occasional rain, I was in one of the most breath-taking places in the world. I was a little tired of going down, making the switch-backs, and avoiding the huge muddy puddles on the trail. But the multiple-colored and diverse rock formations and canyon walls were spell-binding.
Nevertheless, Anne was becoming concerned that we would be late for dinner. Ordinarily that is not a major issue, but at Phantom Ranch when the dinner bell chimes, the guests have only a few minutes to gather before the door is locked and the meal begins precisely at 5 pm.
I’m going to accelerate the story now. No need for me to go through the next 6 miles again and I certainly wouldn’t ask you to go with me.
Anne sent Shayna ahead, hoping she could make it by dinner time, check in, and explain our dilemma.
So down and down and down Anne and I went. Although still ahead of me, she was never out of sight, which was extremely reassuring. We made our turn at the river, then the brief upward push to the bridge and another mile or so to the ranch.
As usual I announced, “I really need to sit for a minute.” So Anne left me resting on a rock as she searched for Shayna.
It was 6 pm, almost 11 hours since we left the South Rim. The “normal” range estimated for the hike is 6-9 hours. But my goal had been to make the hike not set a speed record.
Besides, Phantom Ranch buildings were in sight and I was happy on my rock in one of the most awesome places on the planet. How much better could it get!?!
The next installment will be posted after my surgery.