The 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.
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. Oh, by the way, we had no choice. The only other (feasible) ways out were by mule or helicopter—neither of which were acceptable.
The 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. Even 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.
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.
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.