Last week I spent two days in one of the most beautiful and picturesque places on the planet, and I didn’t take a single picture. For those two days, my camera was in a nearby pocket, either in my shorts or in my pack, at the ready to be taken out and used till the battery died and needed to be replaced and then used some more. But I never took it out, and I never really wanted to take it out.
I had taken pictures of the canyon the day before (and multiple times over the years) so I didn’t really need pictures of the Grand Canyon. My mind was distracted from pictures and on one of my usual tasks: biting off more than I could chew. For two days, my picture-taking sister, my brother-in-law, and I completed a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon.
I know, I know, I know…people do this all the time but remember, this is me. Yes, I’ve hiked many times and places before but…this was different. This was more than 24 miles in the Grand Canyon. In June. It was hot.
But we started on the cold north rim at about 4:30 am, at the North Kaibab Trailhead. It was 37 degrees but as soon as the sun rose, so did the temperature, eventually rising to over 100 degrees. And being downhill didn’t make it easy. It was slow, stepping over rocks, down rock steps, and over trail logs. My downhill hiking skills are lacking. I had to go slow to control my gimpy right leg.
We hiked close together as a group down to the first rest house at Manzanita Creek, and on to Cottonwood Campground. Unfortunately, as we got closer to our destination for the day (Phantom Ranch), the distance between us grew. Chris was anxious to get there and, after us speeding through the dreaded “Box” (narrow canyon with the noon sun baking both walls), he disappeared around the next bends. I was dragging. Tammy kept glancing back to see how close I was to her, but that separation gradually grew. As we were resting in one of the rare shady spots, I told her to go on, I would catch up to them at Phantom Ranch.
But it would be a while. I eventually got so exhausted and worn down by the sun (by now over 105 degrees) that I would stop. I needed help. I needed to cool off. I had plenty of water but that wasn’t helping. I wasn’t thirsty. I was hot.
The path ran near the Bright Angel Creek and I decided I needed to get into it. So, I rested and gathered myself in a shade, then walked down the trail until I got to a spot where I could leave the trail and walk the 75 feet, over boulders and around cacti, to the edge of the creek. I dropped my pack, took my shoes off, emptied my pockets, and, rattlesnakes be damned, crawled to the creek edge and rolled into it.
It. Was. Cold. Perfect, I thought. It felt invigorating. I slowly got everything submerged; legs, torso, arms, head. I just laid there for about twenty minutes, occasionally dipping my face into the cold water, or submerging my hat and then putting it on my head. I was soon a new man, and with all my clothes still damp, I hiked that last half-mile into Phantom Ranch.
We were exhausted and moving slow. We slowly set up our tents at the campground, slowly ate the dinner stew at Phantom Ranch, and slowly contemplated if we were going to make it back out tomorrow, if we were going to make it up the 9.6 severely uphill miles to the South Rim. I think the low that night was 70.
We were up at 2:00am, broke camp, ate food, rested, and set off by 4:00am. Uphill. With packs on our backs. My quads felt okay but my calves were tight. We stayed together for the most part until we got to Indian Garden. Here is where the uphill increased in the level of difficulty; it got steeper, but only 4.5 miles to go!
We were getting closer to the South Rim, but it looked so far away up in the sky. It seemed we had more vertical distance to go than horizontal distance. Tammy and Chris waited for me at the 3-Mile Resthouse. I just quietly sat there and drank my water and electrolytes, and then refilled my bottles. We were soon off again, trying to get to the top before the real heat of the day.
They waited for me again at the 1.5-Mile Resthouse, but I was too tired to climb the rock steps up to the shaded benches. There was a shady spot between the seats and the water spigot, so I plopped down there and tried to recover. This was going to take a while.
By the time they were ready to leave, I still hadn’t found the energy to get up and go get some fresh water. I had to ask Tammy (my older sister) to go fill my water bottles up for me. I was famished. I told them to go on ahead of me and finish the hike, telling them I would be there eventually. I just needed more rest time before I set out on the final 1.5 miles.
After they left, I sat here for another twenty minutes or so, made two trips to the water spigot, to both refill water bottles and stick my head under. Then I casually hiked up to the top of the South Rim, while stopping at every shaded spot I could find along the way to cool off. They only had to wait on me for an hour :^)
This was a hard hike, mostly due to the heat. If you’re ever going to hike rim-to-rim, do it in the fall. And train well for it, train for the uphill. And have a great crew on the ready to help push you and drag you through it :^)