Grand Canyon Adventure – Back to the Top

20180504_054922_resized_1The full moon-glow competed with the rising sun above the canyon wall as we readied to depart Phantom Ranch.

We had enjoyed our stay but were eager to accomplish the rest of our challenge. As promised the weather was great, starting off a little cool, but we’d be shedding our outerwear soon enough.IMG_0354

The walk to the bridge across the Colorado River and the Bright Angel Trailhead was less than a mile from our cabin. Our muscles were covered in Anica salve and we were ready to meet the challenging 10-mile hike UP-UP-UP to the South Rim. IMG_0361Oh, by the way, we had no choice. The only other (feasible) ways out were by mule or helicopter—neither of which were acceptable.

20180504_060900_resizedThe three of us hiked together—at the same pace—until we made it to River Rest House, about 2 miles from the trailhead. Of course, you may remember it was all uphill paralleling the river on our way to Phantom Ranch. Therefore, this trek was all downhill with a gradual slope and less rocky path.

Once we passed the rest house we started up the familiar step-like, rocky, switch-back trail. In short order we hit a rather steep log and rock formation. It was at this point that Shayna darted by me and said something like, “See you at the top.” I thought she meant the top of the particular structure we were climbing. Following suit, Anne apologized for passing me so she could move at her faster rate. It was then I recalled the “everyone at their own pace” rule and I realized “the top” meant the South Rim.

But what the heck, I felt great, in little if any pain, and the day was beautiful. Oh, and we were hiking in the Grand Canyon.

Remarkably, I made it to the half-way mark at Indian Garden by 9:45, four hours from our Phantom Ranch departure time. There were a couple exciting moments getting there but I was pacing myself well, drinking water, and snacking as directed. I was actually on track to meet the 6-9 hour window for completion. (SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t happen.)

One of my exciting moments came when I fell off a rather large rock while reaching my foot to a smaller rock to step down. Apparently uninjured, I was in the process of getting to my feet when a group of young men came up the trail. They offered me help and easily hoisted me to up and guided me to a chair-high rock. I confirmed my lack of serious, if any, damage. We chatted for a bit before resuming the hike. They stayed with me as we crossed several creek-like streams of water crossing the trail. At some point I told them I was okay and they resumed their normal pace and were out of sight quickly.

These young men were the first of many “trail angels” who I met that day. There were also several individuals who were coming down from the top who brought messages from Anne and Shayna to the “lady in the red hat.” Strangely enough, these messages were rather comforting.

Anne and Shayna waited for me at Indian Garden. The young men were there too. Everyone seemed glad to see me. I didn’t realize I deserved so much concern. Of course, in retrospect, I get their point.

Anyway, we left Indian Garden around 10 am and I was quickly alone at my slower speed. 20180504_082046_resizedEven coming upon the 3 mile (from the top) rest house I felt great. My legs and hip were okay. I was okay. There was just enough shade along the way to rest occasionally. Each time I stopped I took a picture.20180504_110225_resized

The last picture shows Indian Garden toward the middle of the photo. I’d come a long way. But I was approaching the 1.5 mile (from the top) rest house and I was running out of juice. My resting periods were getting longer than my hiking periods.20180504_125457_resized

I asked a young couple who were heading down how far it was to the 1.5 mile rest house where I planned to refill my water container. As with most hikers, the woman said, “About 10 or 15 minutes.” No one ever knows the distance in feet/miles. During our chat I mentioned I was low on water but planned on filling up at the rest house. She earned her trail angel status by insisting, without hesitation, that I take a bottle from her supply.

Ironically one of the men who carried a message to me earlier in the day on his way down was returning to the South Rim. He helped me fill my newly acquired water bottle—twice—at the 1.5 mile rest house and walked with me for a brief period, definitely qualifying as a trail angel.

It was about 2:30 pm and I was sitting on another shaded rock contemplating my boots when I noticed someone stopped close to me. I looked up and the nice man said, “How are you doing?” or something like that. I was feeling sort of woozy so conversation wasn’t my priority. I don’t think it took him long to realize I needed some assistance. I had not come to that conclusion yet, but I was not looking at me sitting on the rock.

It was then that Anne called. She and Shayna had made it to the top and wondered where I was on the trail. Before my cell phone went stone cold dead (remember all the pictures I was taking?), I was able to communicate where I was and that a nice man had just offered to help me finish the hike.

Turns out Tim, my new hiking friend, was an experienced hiker who had done the North Rim trails and South Rim trails numerous times. He understood what was happening to my body. I really didn’t want to eat or drink anything more. I felt like I would explode. He made me eat some gummy bear-like snacks and drink more water.

As we walked and rested, he explained why I needed to do that. He told me about a time he had fainted during a hike in the Grand Canyon and a Park Ranger had stayed with him and walked him out. I told him he had officially paid-it-forward by helping me. Did I mention he was carrying my pack as well as his own? Yes, another full-fledge serious-class trail angel.

So we were once again resting and I was actually feeling better—drinking water and eating gummy bears. I knew Tim had exchanged texts with and subsequently talked to his wife, but I did not realize she sent her brother, Bill, and brother’s wife, Gina, down the trail to help. Also an experienced hiker, Gina took my pack from Tim, and soon suggested that he go ahead to the lodge. She and Bill promised to escort me the remaining mile-or-so to the top.

As my new coaches helped me ration the water and snacks and maneuver safely up the trail, I began to feel better and hike faster. I’m sure it was the euphoria of believing I was going to complete my adventure on my own feet, albeit with a great deal of encouragement from Gina and Bill. These two friendly souls are hereby dubbed my most supporting trail angels.

We made it to the top around 4:30 and Gina offered to accompany me to my lodge. She graciously hung around for several minutes then helped me get to my room. We said our goodbyes with my expressions of eternal gratitude for their help.

As I stood alone in my room around 5 pm—about 11 hours from Phantom Ranch—I surveyed with gratitude my luggage, slogged graciously by Anne and Shayna from the car to in my room.

I took a shower and located Anne and Shayna for dinner. We enjoyed a congratulatory toast, but decided we would properly celebrate this fantastic achievement with a final toast on our road trip home.

The final chapter soon.

Grand Canyon Adventure – Phantom Ranch

You may remember I was sitting on a large rock at the end of my last installment (All Downhill, June 2nd).  As I made notes on my cell phone about the day’s “activities” a nice lady named Maryann introduced herself and announced she had come to take me to my friends. She insisted on carrying my pack and told me our destination was just around “that building over there.” It turned out to be a bit farther than I imagined, but I enjoyed the delusion.

Shayna not only arrived in time for dinner but also was able to check into our cabin and secure meals for Anne and me as well. As tired as we were, the still-warm steak dinner was delicious.

IMG_2333The three of us had a cozy cabin to ourselves. Bunk beds, a toilet, and a cold-water sink filled the compact area. Although the bed was tempting, I opted first for a super-hot shower in the building across the main path. I forgot my phone or trail light and stumbled a bit heading back to the cabin until another resident-hiker lighted my way. It’s amazing how dark the canyon bottom gets when that ol’ sun sets.

20180503_102339_resizedOn Thursday—our rest day—we had breakfast at 6:30 followed by a self-directed tour of the ranch.

Behind the canteen and the outbound duffel area is a make-shift open-door closet for miscellaneous items that previous hikers have left behind. The shelves are full of shoes and boots (not all paired) but there were other supplies too. I donated my ice/snow crampons to the collection since I never intend to use them again. But the most important find was a pair of “new” boots for Shayna. 20180503_102354_resized

IMG_2353When the canteen switched from meal room to convenience store (at 10 am), we returned to purchase picture postcards to send to our friends and families. The “mule-train” which brings the supplies down each day returns with hikers’ duffels, trash, and the postcards.

IMG_2350We also bought tee-shirts, available only at Phantom Ranch (of course) and stocked up on healthy snacks and electrolyte powders.

In addition, the staff member recommended Arnica Muscle Easing Salve™ to sooth our aching muscles. This little 1.75-ounce container holds a magic elixir. The three of us used it generously and thoroughly several times on our off-day and immediately before the next day’s hike.

20180503_120954_resizedWe ate our sack lunch by Bright Angel Creek with a furry friend who enjoyed our company less than the cranberries I spilled when I opened the bag.20180503_122658_resized

The staff member also suggested that sitting IN Bright Angel Creek might be helpful—think tub of ice.

20180503_122541_resizedDue to my hip issue and fear of not being able to return to a standing position, I did not sit in the creek. Anne ventured in first and Shayna moved from feet-dunk to full-sitting before long.

During late supper (6:30 pm) we enjoyed speaking to the other guests some of whom have made the journey multiple times, others were newbies like us. We retired early in preparation for our 5 am breakfast before saying goodbye to Phantom Ranch. Rain was predicted for overnight but sunny and warmer weather was forecast for our hike back to the South Rim in the morning.

More of our adventure soon.

Grand Canyon Adventure – All Downhill

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. 20180501_185202In 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?

20180502_063842_resizedApparently 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.

IMG_2296And 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.

IMG_2316By 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.

20180502_100455_resizedSomewhere 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. 20180502_112724_resizedBy 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. 20180502_140235_resized.jpg

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.

Grand Canyon Adventure – Idea & Prep

I’m sure you’ll agree that many great ideas arise between friends while sharing Margaritas and a Combo Platter in a Mexican Restaurant. This is certainly true of the idea for our Grand Canyon Adventure. I’d like to say it was my idea, but it would never have occurred to me to suggest it. Fortunately, my friend Anne is very adventurous and sees no reason why the rest of the world can’t be that way too.

The idea wasn’t too far-fetched. Anne is an experienced hiker and even I have accomplished more than one long hike. My first thought was going to the South Rim, do a day hike, go back to the lodge and have dinner with a bottle of wine to celebrate.

Anne, had a better idea—hike to the bottom, stay at Phantom Ranch for 2 nights, and hike back to the top. Phantom Ranch?

Agreeing to do some research, I took some notes on a cocktail napkin—determine the best time of the year to go, best accommodations on the rim and at Phantom Ranch, and the best way to travel to the location.

What did we do before the internet? NPS.gov, the National Park Service website, led me to the specific pages for the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch. There are only a few ideal months for hiking at the Grand Canyon. It’s open year-round with some restrictions, but if you don’t want to be too cold or too hot, your just right time is April, May, September, or October.

Phantom Ranch offers cabins for four or dorms for 10 by gender. A cabin would be preferable for our small group of 3-4 ladies. Two nights (maximum allowed) would be preferable so we could rest and see some of the sites from the “bottom-up” perspective.

Given the state of air travel and our lack of a private jet, we decided that driving the 1300 miles from our state to the South Rim seemed easier, cheaper, and more fun.

The most difficult task, other than training for the hike itself, was making the reservations for Phantom Ranch—one of the most popular places in the USA. Although the system has since been replaced with a lottery, our reservations had to be made on the first day of a month for that month in the following year. That amounts to 13 months in advance. And the best shot was the first 90 minutes of that first day.

There are 75 phone lines (opening at 8 a.m. Central), 2 cabins each for males & females (16 beds total), plus 2 dorms each for males & females (40 beds total), and thousands of hopeful hikers trying for a month’s-worth of nights all calling on that first day of the month.

I called the reservations line to get some general information and recommendations but I also wanted to check out the call-cueing system. I thought I had done my homework when I made my first try in April 2017 for a reservation in late April 2018. I was disappointed by a busy signal or recording for 1 hour 40 min. By the time I got through everything for April 2018 was booked. The cabins for the entire month went in 15 minutes, dorms within 90 minutes.

I looked into other options—stay in area, do day-hikes, enjoy the scenery—in case Phantom Ranch did not work out. But we were determined to try for May, early June, then September and October.

Sometime before the May 1st attempt, I did more experimentation with phone lines & hold messages. There would be no way to rehearse the onslaught of first-day calls, but I needed an edge.

Then, on May 1, 2017, I called the number about 6:15 a.m., and was thrilled to hear the ring, followed by the hold message. Seemingly hours later—after listening to the message for at least a gazillion times and trying very hard not to cut myself off—I counted down to 8 a.m. and selected Phantom Ranch (option 1).

Within 5 minutes I was connected to an agent. I was able to book a cabin for two nights for 4 women, order all our meals, and pay for everything in advance. We also booked rooms in the Bright Angel Lodge (on South Rim) for the nights before and after our hike, paying for those in advance as well.

More on getting there, getting to the bottom, and getting back to the top when the Grand Canyon Adventure is completed.

Drive versus No-Drive?

Have you ever wondered why one person is more “driven” than the next? Why do some people have specific goals in life, figure out how to achieve them, and establish a plan/path to get there? What’s more, that individual will roll with the punches, take an alternate route as needed, and revise their target to skirt any obstruction or switch to a more attractive opportunity.

Others are guided by circumstances or events in an ad hoc fashion. A friend may mention she wants to go into the Navy, describing the benefits of military service. Our subject rolls her eyes and smiles, but her brain is secretly digesting and analyzing the information. Before you know it our gal is in the Air Force and her friend has moved on to another idea.

I relate to the above serendipitous scenario. In fact, my life-path has been directed by a sequence of unforeseen events or circumstances. These nudges were provided by friends, family, and complete strangers, usually at moments when I was wondering what to do next.

Both approaches are okay. And I don’t think a person necessarily makes a conscious decision to go one way or the other. It’s just what happens.

So here’s my theory: Young Soul as opposed to Old Soul.

Young Soul might be eager to experience a particular challenge not faced in a previous lifecycle. Old Soul, on the other hand, may have been more structured in previous lives and wants to “go with the flow” this time around.

Of course, it may be the exact opposite. Old Soul has things left to do and sets out to accomplish a particular goal in this time. Young Soul doesn’t know what’s available, so-to-speak, so just lets circumstances guide their life activities.

Anyway, that’s my current speculation.

Not Too Soon

Besieged by grief after the devastating and terrifying carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the children-students have become the adults in the conversation. They say it isn’t too soon to talk about gun control. They say they are tired of inaction on the part of politicians and the government. They say children should not be afraid to go to school. They say it’s time to do something to prevent school shootings.

And perhaps those who have a responsibility to take action are listening. Perhaps the very poised, articulate, and rightfully angry students of Douglas High have themselves taken the first step to fix the problem.

The truth is the “problem” experienced in Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine and other schools is complicated. Everyone has an opinion—too many guns, too easy to get an assault rifle, too many troubled teens or adults, and on and on. Consequently, there is no simple “fix.”

But the students who raised their voices and gained the attention of the nation—maybe the world—have expressed the right idea. Now is the time to begin the conversations, to take the steps, to do whatever is necessary to prevent this type of tragedy—whether in a school or in a concert hall—from happening ever again.

As I listened to the students, teachers, and parents speaking to the President in the White House recently, I was extremely proud of this next generation. In the midst of much of turmoil and division in the world, they represent hope for the future. I was also impressed with other grassroots programs which sprung from the tragedies of Columbine and Sandy Hook and now bolster the movement roused by the most recent school massacre.

The powerful crusade energized by the Parkland students is less than two weeks old. Hopefully, this daunting campaign will strengthen and endure. There’s a lot of work to do, but the first giant step has been taken by some very brave teenagers.

 

News-Junkie Blues

Yes, I will admit I’m a news junkie – local, state, and national. I’ve always watched the evening news and read the daily newspaper. Before I retired, I often recorded morning news programs and special news events to watch after work. You might say I’m interested in what’s happening in my community and in my country, or you might say I have a problem. Either way, I’m probably not going to change.

Why am I sharing this character trait? The truth is the news I’m watching these days can be a real downer. There are people murdering strangers. There are revelations about people I have admired and respected doing really inappropriate things to other people. There are wars in several areas of the world in which our country participates one way or another. There is dysfunction and chaos in Washington, D.C., the heart of our democracy. The list goes on.

Should I give up watching all those reports? That’s not a realistic solution.

Sometimes I miss the “good old days” until I realize that’s not when we live. We live now. There’s no way to return to a better time (at least not yet). And the reality is—the past was not better it was simply different.

I can hear you say, “Please don’t tell me ‘life is what you make it.’” Sorry, but life is exactly that. Our experiences—disappointments and successes, challenges and pleasures—are flavored by our choices, our decisions, and—more importantly—our reactions to whatever comes our way.

All of what happens in our world affects us and much of what happens cannot be changed or fixed by us, but we can control how we respond to what happens, regardless of one’s situation or station in life.

I try to lean to the positive side, not right or left. I even share a big grin with that jerk who just cut in front of me in traffic. A couple days ago I actually helped a lady deal with her debit card in the grocery line (another story). Basically, I think about the other guy’s point-of-view or situation before reacting.

Do I always agree with the other person? Of course not. But if I try to understand his position, I might find a way to lend a helping hand or have a constructive conversation.

If neither is feasible, I just walk away or turn off the television before I add to the problem or allow myself to become upset.

Does this policy always work? Well, “always” is a stretch, but more often than not I feel better.

If I could just learn to live without the evening news.