South Rim to River to South Rim
via South Kaibab & Bright Angel Trail
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
It was five in the morning when the alarm went off, we all grumbled a little, but then we remembered why were getting up so early—today was the day we would hike from the South Rim of The Grand Canyon to the Colorado River! The date was June 25, 2000, and the hikers were myself (Weisey), Pick, Kat, Cupcake, Karabeener, and Dauster. The six of us were excited to begin our journey through time—geologically speaking, the Grand Canyon spans 2 billion years of earth’s history (nearly half the age of the planet)—each step down into the canyon transports you an astounding 60,000 years back in time! The canyon itself is one mile deep, eighteen miles wide, 160 miles long, and covers 1.2 million acres in northern Arizona. This amazing national park offers some of the best hiking in America, and unlike most hikes, trails in Grand Canyon start at the top and end at the bottom—this “mountain-in-reverse” style of hiking leads to some unique challenges. For one, a hike into the canyon seems deceptively easy on the way down. Another factor to consider is the temperature—the lower you go, the hotter it gets, with temperatures up to 20°F hotter at the bottom of the canyon. The combination of all of these factors had our heart’s racing, and the sound of our alarm put an extra jump into our rhythm.
The clock read 5:30 am, when we started packing our backpacks for the most strenuous hike any of us had ever undertaken. In fact, two of our crewmembers—Karabeener and Dauster—had never hiked before in their lives, and the Grand Canyon would soon prove to be one of the biggest tests of their endurance, not to mention, a tough initiation into the Natural Born Hikers Crew. In addition to the rookie hikers, the crew consisted of Pick and myself (leading the crew in age and experience), and then second in rank for hiking experience were Kat and Cupcake. The six of us figured that age and experience would balance well with youth and enthusiasm.
Our backpacks were loaded in the car, and we were on our way to the Denny's in Williams, Arizona by 6:15 am. Thankfully, everyone seemed to be efficient at packing only things that were of necessity in their pack, that is after we convinced Dauster that she didn't need her curling iron. Dauster is, by the way, a master of wilderness cosmetology, and we are encouraging her to write a book entitled “Beauty in the Rough". The contents of our backpacks varied, but each of us had in our packs a piece of the tent that would be our home at the Bright Angel Campground. We were also carrying extra collapsible water containers, filled with water that we could use to refill our 100-ounce camelbacks if it became necessary. The next thing on our minds was breakfast.
Okay, breakfast at Denny's—seemed like a good idea at the time, but it ended up taking way too much time! We were now a little behind on our schedule, but hey, we were full. We arrived at The Grand Canyon at about 8:30 am, and first on our pre-hike list of things to do was to pick up our reservations for our breakfast and sack lunches that would be awaiting us at the Phantom Ranch. We parked at the Bright Angel Lodge and ran in to get our reservations—everything was in order, with the reservations showing six seats for breakfast on June 26, 2000 at 6:30 am. Next on our list was to catch the shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. We parked our "official" NBH minivan rental at the Backcountry Permit Office, and then walked to the bus stop—a ranger was there and asked if we planned to start our hike this late, to which we answered yes. She then advised us that the heat would be really intense later in the day, and that it would probably be best to wait until later in the afternoon to begin our hike. We proceeded to discuss our options and our strategy with the ranger, and she again advised us to avoid the mid-day heat in the inner canyon by delaying our start time. In the end, youthful enthusiasm got the best of us, and we decided to begin our hike as planned—we piled on the shuttle and headed for Yaki Point.
The ride to Yaki Point takes about 20 minutes and affords great views of the canyon. All of us were very excited, and as we looked out the shuttle windows and down into the huge canyon, there were several exclamations of "Wow", and "Are we going all the way down there?" It was hard to believe that we were finally going to get to live our dream, and when we arrived at the trailhead, I started thinking back on all the time and preparation that had gone into this hike already. We had applied for our hiking permit back in February—fully expecting a rejection notice, but to my surprise, we received a package from the Department of the Interior that contained our permit. It was hard to believe that we were actually going to get the opportunity to complete one of the world's most famous hikes.
When we arrived at the South Kaibab Trailhead, everyone began going about the business of preparing and putting on their backpacks, and double-checking their water supply, and in the midst of all this activity, I stopped and thought about how close this hike was going to bring the six of us. After this brief reflection, I was ready for the physical and spiritual adventure that this hike would lead us on.
We started hiking at 9:30 am—choosing to hike down the South Kaibab Trail and up the Bright Angel Trail. The South Kaibab Trail is 6.3 miles long and very steep, making it a popular choice for descending, rather than ascending, the canyon. Another thing to consider when hiking the South Kaibab Trail is the fact that it has no shade and no water anywhere along its course—so you need to be prepared for particularly rugged conditions. The trail descends down into the canyon nearly one vertical mile, 4,780 feet of elevation, making for a strenuous trek. We took our first steps onto the trail with thoughts of our destination, the Bright Angel Campground, fresh in our minds.
At the beginning of our journey, everyone was in great spirits—smiling and taking in the incredible scenery. After only a few minutes into our hike (near Ooh-Ahh Point—0.75 miles from the trailhead), we had to stop and let a mule train go by—a spectacle that prompted Cupcake to sing The Brady Bunch theme song. Then, as we turned to watch them head up the canyon via a series of switchbacks cut into the pale Kaibab limestone it became apparent just how steep the trail actually was—a realization that gave us pause.
While the South Kaibab Trail is not prohibitively difficult, it must be noted that it has very little shade, no water sources, and no campgrounds between the trailhead and the river. For this reason, park rangers do not recommend ascending the trail during the sweltering summer months. We were indeed hiking during the summer months, but we were descending along the South Kaibab and therefore not expending as much energy as a hiker climbing out of the canyon—nonetheless, we had given ourselves plenty of time, and we were keeping to a pace that was not too fast and not too slow. Many other people were hiking along this portion of the trail as well, making it obvious that the South Kaibab Trail is a popular place to test your stamina. Hundreds of people everyday test their legs by hiking just a few feet below the rim, but you soon reach a point where the people start thinning out—a reminder that you are entering the true backcountry. The solitude that comes with the lack of other people soothes your soul, and you begin to get into a rhythm that adds to the sense of calm. You begin to notice the changes that are occurring along the trail, most notably the color of the dirt below your feet and of the walls that surround you. The further you descend into the canyon, the more saturated and warm the colors become. The trail starts out a beige color but soon turns to a deep red, a red that absorbs and reflects the heat of the sun.
As we made our way towards the Colorado River, our first stop was Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles from the trailhead), and by then it was starting to get pretty hot—a quick glance at the thermometer on my watch let me know it was 90 degrees at high noon. Everyone took off their packs in an effort to rest their shoulders and to enable a visit to the bathroom. Upon exploration of the area, we discovered an ominous sign that read "Heat Kills," it also cautions the hiker to stay at Cedar Ridge until after 4:00 pm—this is advised as a measure to avoid hiking the inner canyon at the hottest part of the day. Despite the fact that it was only noon, we decided to keep moving.
A little past Cedar Ridge we stopped to have a blister check—everyone was doing well, but Pick and I decided to put some moleskin on some sensitive spots just as a precaution. We then all changed into a fresh pair of socks and continued hiking down the endless switchbacks. At that point, our quads were burning a little but no one was in any serious pain—we continued following our downward path. Then, after a few more minutes of hiking we came to a flat, rocky surface along the trail that was perfect for a lunch break—the views at this location, known as Skeleton Point, were spectacular.
It was now 102 degrees.
In the midst of the oppressive heat we broke into our lunches, which consisted of pineapple cups, Pop-Tarts, peanut butter on bread, Slim Jims, and tuna. After about 30 minutes we finished eating and packed up our trash—it was time to get moving—there was no shade to sit in, so we did not rest long. As we resumed hiking down the trail a raven started circling above us, his wings cut through the wind and it made a strange noise—it was the only noise that we heard except for our footsteps. The deafening silence enveloped us and reminded us of our remoteness—the solitude this far down into the canyon is startling to the senses.
The further we trekked into the Inner Gorge, the more fantastic the views of the canyon became—particularly the views into the dusty green bowl of Cremation Creek Canyon and the Tonto Plateau beyond. Viewing the Grand Canyon from this depth gave us a new perspective on an old friend—we had been to the canyon twice before, but had only seen it from the rim—to truly appreciate the Grand Canyon you must journey down into its heart—a journey that is quickened by the precipitous switchbacks known as the Reds and Whites that are encountered just after Skeleton Point.
The next landmark encountered on our adventure was the emergency tip-off phone and bathroom—we decided to stop at that point and rest a little more. Shade was still nonexistent, and the heat was just radiating off of everything—my watch read 106 degrees. I soaked myself down with the water from my camelback and advised everyone to do the same—Pick had also brought a luxury item known as a misty-mate, which she used to spray everyone down with a cooling mist—refreshed, we start moving again.
Just past the Tipoff, the trail enters its steepest section, dropping nearly 1,600 feet in just 1.7 miles. The path then swings to the right before curling around and traversing Panorama Point—where you round a bend and get your first good views of the green waters of the Colorado River—what a sight! The view of this spectacular river gave us new energy, as we could now feel our goal getting closer—unfortunately, it was soon after this that Karabeener and Dauster started to feel nauseous. Dauster seemed to be feeling the most nauseous, and she let us know that she was on the verge of getting sick—we all stop in hopes that a short rest will calm her stomach.
Unfortunately, the heat was closing in and I feared that they both might be succumbing to heat exhaustion. In an attempt to cool down their body temperature, I drenched them with water from my camelback—wiping their arms with it and soaking their hair. After that, I informed them that we needed to keep moving so that we could find shade—if possible. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the entrance to the tunnel that leads to Black Bridge, which spans the Colorado. At this point, everyone is pretty hot and bitchy, but otherwise okay—both Dauster and Karabeener had perked up. We head through the tunnel and cross the black suspension bridge—a feat that Karabeener and Kat were dreading, but had turned out to be less intimidating than they had expected. The fact that the floor of the bridge (which is about five feet wide) is covered with a mat, which I assume is for the mules, really helped to ease their fear of heights. Even if you have a fear of heights, you will appreciate the views from the bridge—they are spectacular, with the river below you and the canyon walls above, it is a sight to behold! As we crossed the bridge a raft leisurely floated down the Colorado, and we could see people on the banks below us cooling off in the river—we picked up the pace in anticipation of doing the same.
After crossing Black Bridge, we head west along the north wall towards Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Campground, stopping briefly along the way to take a dip in the Colorado River. We hike down what seems to be a monstrously steep hill, thanks to our sore muscles, towards the river. When we finally reach the shores of the cool water, everyone splashes their faces, and we are shocked by how cold the water is, but it feels great! Karabeener, Dauster, and myself take our shoes and socks off and wade into the river—it is so cold that it literally numbs our legs, making it impossible to stay in for very long. Reluctantly, we leave the oasis of the river and put our shoes back on and head for the Phantom Ranch—we are psyched to get a glass of lemonade at the cantina, mainly because we are all so sick of lukewarm water that we could vomit. However, first we decide to set up our tent and ditch our gear at the campground. As quickly as we can, we pitch the tent and hang our packs on the T-bar at the site. Okay, time for some refreshing lemonade—off we go! We hike the half-mile back to the Phantom Ranch, headed for the cantina—that's odd, it seems dark. What!! It closed at 4:00pm! What time is it? It is 4:10—YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING! A sign on the door bears the bad news—it won’t reopen until 8:00pm. Oh—My—God—four more hours! What to do? Go jump in the creek, that's what!
Heeding the advice on a sign by the trail, I change into shorts and go sit in the Bright Angel Creek—much warmer than the Colorado River but still chilly. Pick also takes a dip, but unfortunately nobody else does. If they had, it would have helped cool them down and perhaps it would have averted the catastrophe that was yet to come. Refreshed but still fatigued, we head back to the tent exhausted, where Cupcake, Pick, and myself fall asleep on our tent fly that we had lying on the ground. Karabeener, Kat, and Dauster fall asleep sitting at the picnic table—when we all awake it is so hot that we feel like we are going to burst into flames—back to the creek! We splash around in the cool waters, change, and then head for the ranch. At 8pm they reopen and we are first in line, we each buy a lemonade or iced tea and sit at the tables enjoying the air-conditioned cantina. We stay for about an hour and then head back in the darkness to our tent—that's when disaster strikes—Karabeener pukes on the side of the trail. Fortunately, she says that she feels much better after tossing her cookies, but better she was not.
The six of us, exhausted and hot, arrive back at the campground where we all crawl into the tent and stake out our piece of the floor—six adults in one tent—cloud cover trapping the heat in the canyon floor—tent sitting on the ground baked by the sun—trapping the heat on the ground. Sleep? Not on your life. The ground felt like a stove burner and none of us got more than 2 hours of sleep. In fact, the only thing that would let us rest, for maybe 15 minutes at a time, was the misty-mate. Karabeener was the first to leave the tent—she was sick again. I cannot express my concern for her well-being, and my thoughts ranged from water intoxication to heat stroke. Worried, I went outside to sit with her in the darkness at the picnic table—soon Pick came out and joined us. I had my headlamp on and I kept scanning the ground for scorpions—I heard rustling in the bushes, which I assumed were lizards, but I never saw any. The night was filled with the sound of some insect, possibly a cicada, and the three of us stayed up well into the night—hoping her illness would pass.
Unfortunately, she continued to feel nauseous all night, vomiting on several occasions. I felt so bad for her, and the worst part was not knowing exactly what to do to help her. On a more mundane level, I worried that she wouldn't be able to make it out of the canyon. We all sat at the table for a while longer, and then I walked down to the bathroom—my headlamp lit my path and when I returned to the campsite there was a scorpion on a rock right near the entrance. At that point, I decided I would spend the rest of the night in the miserable tent. Karabeener came back to the tent too, but made several trips to the bathroom. At about 3:00am I woke up and was so hot that I thought I was on fire, so I went down to the creek again and soaked my hair and face. As a sat in the darkness next to the creek, my headlamp lit up all of these little fish that were swimming in water—it was an oddly surreal moment. Eventually, I went back to the tent and waited for the first light of morning—it came at about 5:00am.
The morning sunrise was a welcome sight, and we all started to rustle about and one by one we filed out of the tent—Dauster was the first to exclaim that she was never going to recover from this ordeal and everyone, except for Pick and I, decided that they hated the Grand Canyon. Somberly, we packed up the tent and headed for breakfast at the Phantom Ranch—our seating was served at 6:30 am, and the food was awesome. Breakfast is served family style and included pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, and peach halves. There was also plenty for our vegetarian, Kat, to eat as well. Beverages included orange juice, coffee, and a pitcher of ice water—from which Cupcake and I took some ice, placed it in a cup and then shared the can of Pepsi that we had lovingly carried to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. That turned out to be a bad idea, because soon after drinking the cola, Cupcake's stomach decided that breakfast was not going to stay around any longer and he puked behind the Phantom Ranch. Okay, good start to the day.
Now for the hard part—hiking out of a canyon after barely any sleep, with sore aching muscles, and two members of your crew puking—a challenge I would rather not face. As we reflected on our situation, Pick and I wondered what happened to the stamina of youth—the only ones without major complaints were us old folks. The two of us were in our thirties and we were in better shape than these kids who were barely twenty—there truly is something to be said for experience.
We start up the Bright Angel Trail at about 7:30am on a hike that will take us up the canyon 4,400 feet over a distance of 9.7 miles. We cross the silver suspension bridge, which has open grate floor, and head down the River Trail following the Colorado for a bit—everybody seems okay at this point and we were hopeful things were getting better. Then the trail started to climb.
As soon as the trail started to gain some elevation, Karabeener started feeling sick again. At this point, the group started to split into pairs, as it became more and more difficult for some to keep stopping—if you don't follow your own pace on a hike your legs can start to get the best of you. I opted to stay back with Karabeener because I felt responsible for her first hiking experience being a disaster—Pick, Dauster, Cupcake, and Kat needed to move a little faster to avoid cramping so I told them to go on ahead of us. Indeed, Karabeener's pace was extremely slow going, but to her credit she never once complained or gave up—the spirit of a true Natural Born Hiker! In an attempt to keep her as comfortable as possible, the two of us would take short steps and rest every 30 paces or so. I began to set small goals for us, like the tree up ahead or that little patch of shade—giving Karabeener just enough motivation to keep going, plus her own inner strength. The good part about the Bright Angel Trail is that it followed a stream, Garden Creek/Pipe Creek, most of the way up to Indian Gardens. The proximity of the creek helped me to cool Karabeener down a little, as we took advantage of every opportunity to splash some cool water on her. At one point Karabeener looked at me and asked what I thought was wrong. I responded by asking how she felt and she replied that her nausea was accompanied by chills and a fast heart rate—I was sure then that she had heatstroke, and I knew we had to get her cooled off, but she didn't want to get herself wet. Despite her objections, I kept soaking her with water and finally at a creek crossing I made her take off her shirt and soak it in the water and put it back on—this helped a little but not for long.
Trudging along, we came around a bend and I could see Pick up on a ridge many switchbacks in front of us. When she spotted us, she yelled down to see if Karabeener was any better—to which I replied that she was really sick. Pick then informed us that Cupcake had puked again as well, but that he seemed to be feeling better now. On a good note, Dauster was apparently in pretty good shape, and Kat had taken off in a whirlwind of energy. Once again, Karabeener wanted to stop but I told her that we had to get out of the sun first—I pointed out a shady area and set that as our next goal. When we reached the shady spot there were other hikers resting as well—Karabeener was looking obviously sick and the other hikers asked if everything was okay. I explained the situation and they asked if we needed any water or food. I replied that we were set in that department, and thanked them for their generosity and concern. (I would like to say how wonderful all the people along the trail were, everyone was so nice and eager to share supplies if needed—thanks to all of those people—you renewed our faith in humanity) One woman, who was sitting with us, offered some snacks, and I asked if anyone had any powdered electrolyte formula—I knew Karabeener needed this bad, and it was the one thing I didn't bring. In response to our plea, this kind woman filled our platypus bag with something she called Gookinaid—she explained its properties and wished us well. The two of us sat in the shade alone for a while, and then when I looked up I noticed that Pick had backtracked down the trail to offer her help. Together, the three of us rested for maybe 30 minutes, and then Pick, in a heroic effort, carried Karabeener's pack, and her own, in order to give Karabeener a break!
Onward we trekked, amid the sweltering heat of the Inner Gorge (which killed my camera...ughhh!), and as we hiked along my mind began to wander— I started thinking about Lulu, one of our crew who couldn’t make this trip, and I wondered how well she would be doing at this point. Most likely, she would be doing fine since she is a strong hiker—for that reason, we all missed her company and shared in her disappointment of not being able to join us. I also silently wished her a happy birthday—it was June 26, 2000 and Lulu was turning 32.
After a bit of daydreaming, I was back to the task at hand—getting Karabeener out of this canyon in one piece and on her own two feet. Unfortunately, she was feeling pretty sick at this point and had even asked about a ranger calling for help at Indian Gardens. We explained the cost and effort involved in such a rescue, and assured her that she would be able to get herself out—she agreed, so onward we hiked. It was soon after our discussion that we came to a small spot on the trail where a tree provided some much-appreciated shade. Another hiker was already taking advantage of this welcome respite, and as we approached her she asked if we were with Cupcake and Dauster—shocked, we replied yes. She then explained that they had informed her that one of us was sick and would she please inquire about how we were doing. Next, we introduced ourselves and explained Karabeener's condition, at which she proclaimed she was a paramedic and that her name was Ellen—we couldn't believe our good luck at meeting this person. At that point, she proceeded to assess Karabeener's condition and determined that she did indeed have heatstroke. Ellen explained that we needed to get her cooled down immediately, and she then instructed Karabeener to eat some peanuts—for the much-needed salt, but Karabeener could only choke down four or five. Ellen then instructed us that it was imperative that we get her into the creek as soon as possible. We located a portion of the stream, very close to where we were, which would be deep enough for Karabeener be submersed. Near this deep pool, there were a few hikers purifying water for their bottles and they were kind enough to ask if we needed any for ourselves—I was so happy because I was just about out of water from using it to cool Karabeener. They then selflessly filled my camelback with fresh, cool stream water—again, saved by the kindness of strangers! During this time, Ellen told Karabeener to get in the water—all the way in the water—but Karabeener was still expressing stubbornness about getting wet. At that point, Ellen made it clear to her that she absolutely must get in if she wanted to save herself—Karabeener got in the creek. It was the perfect spot for such an endeavor, because miraculously, there was a cascading waterfall that Karabeener fit perfectly underneath. Our friend lowered herself into the creek, and the cool running water began to work its healing magic. Ellen forced her to stay in for 20 minutes, in spite of her pleas to get out after only 5 minutes, and as Karabeener reluctantly stayed in the water, Ellen used a towel that she had with her to soak up water and squeeze out over Karabeener's head. After the allotted time, Ellen decided that Karabeener had been in long enough and she let her get out of the stream—Karabeener's whole demeanor was completely different. She was smiling and talking more like her perky self—Ellen, with her medical expertise and her selfless act, had saved the day and our friend—you rock Ellen!
Almost instantly after getting out of the water, Karabeener was able to eat, and Ellen gave her some honey in order to provide some much-needed energy. Ellen also made Karabeener change into a lighter colored shirt—the tank top she was wearing before was dark blue (which absorbed heat), so Ellen gave her a white t-shirt out of her pack that would be more reflective. Ellen claimed it was one of J. Crew’s famous arctic cooling, hyperthermia proof, super ultra light t-shirts—too funny. The mood was now much lighter, and with the weight of worry for our friend off our minds we set off, renewed, with our new companion. This time I carried Karabeener's pack so that she could still rest, and keep herself well—finally we arrive at Indian Gardens
When we walked into the oasis that is Indian Gardens we saw our friends Cupcake and Dauster for the first time in 4 hours—hugs and greetings were exchanged. We explained everything that had happened and they express how glad they are that the situation is better. After catching up on each other’s adventure, we discuss our hiking options from here on out—there are 4.4 miles to go until we reach the South Rim. We all decide to stay at the gardens until 4:00pm, after which time the ridge produces shade on the trail—setting out before that time usually culminates in the hiker crossing an exposed plateau, with no water source around, at the hottest part of the day. Happy with our decision, we all settle in for a few hours rest, ditching our backpacks with a sigh of relief. The next topic on our minds for discussion was the whereabouts of Kat—Cupcake then informed us that the last time he saw her she was trekking along at a fast pace, and that it had been a few hours since he last saw her. I was worried about her, and angry that she had set off alone, but I knew that she would probably be fine.
As we sat beneath the shade of the towering cottonwood trees, which owe there existence to the spring that feeds Garden Creek from this point forward to the river, we decided to break into our lunches that were packed with care at Phantom Ranch. Our sack lunches consisted of summer sausage, apples, bagels, cream cheese, raisins, and the best apple juice I have ever tasted. Cupcake had also befriended a volunteer ranger, who was nice enough to give us some crackers and some more electrolyte powder—more good fortune. In addition to our packed lunches from the ranch, we had also brought with us a few Pop-Tarts, which sparked one of the funniest moments of the entire trip—Dauster, who was pretty much in a stupor, was eating her Pop-Tart when she proclaimed in a monotone voice with a dazed look on her face that “Pop-Tarts are good.” Maybe I was half punch-drunk, but it was one of the most comical lines I had ever heard, and we all, to her dismay I might add, broke into hysterical laughter. After lunch, we lounged around and took naps on the benches, and then at about 2:30pm a rain cloud moved in and seemed like it was going to stick around—instantly, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity to get an earlier start.
Underneath a cloud-filled sky that was showering us with just the slightest bit of rainfall, we set out across the desert—taking note of the thermometer along the trail that read 106° F. I also noticed that Ellen was struggling with the weight of her backpack, so I helped her shoulder her pack, which weighed about 45 pounds! In comparison, our packs weighed about 20 pounds per person. I came to find out that the reason Ellen was struggling was because she had pulled a muscle in her upper leg earlier in her trip, and it was now starting to cause her to limp a little—the weight of her pack adding stress to the injury. We did our best to ease her pain—together, tired and sore, the seven of us made our way towards the rim.
As we worked our way up the canyon, the rain cloud continued to shower us with a few drops—providing welcome relief from the heat. Our group of seven, each of us thanking the weather gods for the shower, started to split into separate groups again—pairing up according to pace. Pick, our fastest hiker, headed up the trail with ease where she later met up with our long lost Kat at the 1.5 mile Resthouse—from there they hike out together, both of them healthy and happy. Dauster, Cupcake and I stay pretty much together, and Karabeener and Ellen bring up the rear—still struggling with their ailments.
The oasis of Indian Gardens, now a distant memory, became replaced with red cliffs that towered above our heads. This area, known as the Redwall formation, consists of large blocks of Redwall Limestone that create a dramatic and beautiful vista. The next landmark on our way to the rim, along the Bright Angel Trail, was the 3-mile Resthouse, a building with running water but no toilets, is approached via a series of swithbacks dubbed Jacobs Ladder—a formidable obstacle of tight zigzags heading steeply up the canyon. When we get to the 3-mile Resthouse, we walk into the shelter house in order to get some shade—unfortunately, there is stagnant water on the ground and the smell is gross, so I decide I would rather stand in the sun. There are a lot of people here and a band of thieving squirrels—careful sitting your backpack down because a squirrel just might chew a hole in it. The water here is really warm and not refreshing, but nonetheless we are thankful for the amenity. I wait until I have a visual of Karabeener and Ellen coming up the trail, and then I decide to keep trekking—Dauster joins me, and Cupcake is not far behind. I feel as though we are making good progress, but every time I look up I just see more and more switchbacks—they seem never ending and can mentally zap your energy. To take our minds off the never-ending climb, Dauster and I amuse ourselves by cursing the canyon and stopping occasionally to watch squirrels along the trail—we wave at Cupcake, who we can see on the ridge below us, and we can also see Karabeener and Ellen. Content in the fact that we are all suffering together, we continue on our quest for the rim.
As you make your way, tired and sore, towards the South Rim, it is easy to forget to stop and look around at the beauty that is the Grand Canyon. On the hike out, you tend to focus solely on getting to the rim, but I finally brought myself out of that, and stopped to look at the walls of the canyon turning beautiful shades of red under the setting sun—it was a sight that easily made the hike worth every step.
After what seems like an eternity, Dauster and I finally arrive at the 1.5 mile Resthouse, and shortly thereafter Cupcake comes hiking up the trail—everyone is still well. The shelter house here is located up off the trail and you have to climb up about 12 steps—I would love to get a hold of the person who built those steps. Thankfully, the “climb” is worth it, as the water at this rest stop is cool and refreshing. I drenched myself again and filled up my camelback—I also picked up an empty water bottle that someone had left and filled it too—so I could keep dumping water on myself. It was here that I struck out on my own.
Of all the unfortunate circumstances that occurred while hiking the Grand Canyon, the one that personally eats at me the most was the fact that my camera had died from the heat early on the Bright Angel Trail. Regrettably, I was unable to take photos—which was setting me crazy, and to add to the disappointment, the exposed film I was carrying ended up being damaged by the heat as well. (You will probably notice the damage in our galleries) Oh well, the photos are in my memory I guess.
When I got to the tunnel, the one-mile tunnel, on the Bright Angel Trail I knew I was getting close. Finally, I could see the Bright Angel Lodge perched on the rim of the canyon—what a wonderful sight! It looked so close, and really it was just a mile away, but once again it felt like an eternity passed before it got any closer. I just kept walking and wondering how my body was still putting one foot in front of the other—my knees were really starting to bother me as well, and I was stopping to rest them often. Eventually, I noticed the lodge getting closer and closer, and then FINALLY there it was—Pick was waiting at the end of the trail to greet me with a hug and a high- five, and Kat came down the walkway to greet me as well. I noticed that Kat was limping, but I was so happy to see her that I didn’t want to ruin the moment by asking what had happened. I had not seen her since early that morning, but when we met with a hug she pointed in the direction of her toes. When I looked down I could see that both her big toes were swollen with blisters under the toenail, and I knew she was going to have black toe—she seemed fine other than that, and was excited that we had all succeeded. It was about 7:00pm when I conquered the canyon, and Pick and Kat had made it out at about 5:30pm—the three of us together again, we waited for the rest of the crew.
As we waited I got so cold that I was literally shaking—a combination of fatigue and the cool night air. Soon, Cupcake triumphantly walked out of the canyon, he was all smiles and was high-fiving anyone that walked past him—we all hugged him. It was 7:15pm when he surfaced. The next to add the Grand Canyon to their list of hikes was Karabeener, Dauster and Ellen. They made it to the lodge at about 7:30pm. The whole crew together again, we headed for the concession stand and drank sodas. At this point, Ellen was really suffering with her pulled muscle, but her friends were there to meet her and all was well. We exchanged addresses and thanked her again for her kindness and expertise. We headed for the van with the most pitiful limping walks you have ever seen—affectionately known as the Kaibab Shuffle by hikers! Once in the van our minds turned towards food, and we headed for Wendy's.
We had accomplished one of the most strenuous hikes in The United States—nearly 20 miles long. We had overcome heatstroke, blisters, and sore muscles in order to accomplish our goal. The Grand Canyon will forever be in our collective memories, an experience none of us will ever forget, and it has woven a connecting thread between the six of us that will never be broken. My thanks to all the people who helped us succeed, and to my friends who made the journey with me—congratulations, WE MADE IT!