|Backpack||18.80 Miles||2 Days 8 Hrs 30 Mns |
|4,790 ft AEG||1 Day 19 Hrs Break|
|Fauna included lots of squirrels, plenty of deer at the bottom and elk at the top, a seagull, a giraffe, and a werewolf. The last two were really costumed bipeds on the shuttle but the rest were all natural sightings. Other hikers reported that they spotted a bobcat and a fox, apparently the bobcat may have been hunting the fox.
It's the Grand Canyon! I Always thought that I'd only ever look at it from the top, I was embarrassed when we were at Havasu Falls and another hiker mentioned the steep hike in to Phantom Ranch and I had to admit to not knowing what he was talking about. The idea of hiking into the Grand Canyon had never crossed my mind until that moment, I mean, could it be any more beautiful from inside the canyon. Still the idea was born and Wendi and I had been looking for an excuse to return to where we first got engaged and reminisce.
We got to the park the day before. After dropping off a 30lb duffel at the mule depot, then checking into the Bright Angel Lodge, then eating lunch while the first of many squirrels looked on from our room window which was just inches above ground level, we headed out on tour of the new(to us) shuttle buses. We briefly checked out the Bright Angel TH behind the lodge, lots of hustle and bustle. The trail itself looked intimidating but with an allure that beckoned like a siren.
Once on the shuttles we made our way east stopping where we could admire the best views of the Canyon. When we got to Mather Point I realized I was looking at the South Kaibab, stupefied I tried trace it's path which was mostly modestly steep where it didn't disappear into areas where there surely couldn't be a trail with no obvious promise of shelter from a noon day sun, I am sure I must be the only person , lest it was another hiker, to stand in view of the great beauty all around and was compelled to say "That is ugly" and then also have his wife agree. Once the lunacy of those words were realized I repeated them a few more times for our own amusement, so we could laugh. Tomorrow we hike down that trail, and unlike the BA there was no siren that beckoned.
But for now we were to Yaki Point, we skipped South Kaibab TH, wanting to save that for tomorrow. We were excited to see Yaki Point, where I proposed to Wendi 7 years earlier... only, we didn't recognize it at all. This was not where we got engaged. We got right back on the orange line and road the shuttles from their furthest eastern point, Yaki, to Hermits in the far west, on the Red line. We rode the shuttle stopping at nearly every stop and never found the spot. Seriously how big could this Grand Canyon be? After 4.5 hours on the shuttle we resigned to just being in the vicinity of the spot where we were engaged. Along the way we spotted lots of elk milling about in the woods just shy of joining the herds of people moving from one spectacular scene to the next.
The next morning it was up at 5, some coffee from the lobby, and just made the morning's first Hiker's Express shuttle at 6. We ate breakfast at the top of South Kaibab while watching most of the rest of the shuttled group begin their hike. We were happy for the early morning shade that we had, and tried to take advantage of it. I saw the spot where we were yesterday at Mather Point, the spot where I stood cursing the sight of this trail, but now feeling hopeful and thankful for a cool morning. We quickly made it to the first of 2 rest-houses. Wendi shocked me when she said that was at the 3 mile point but then corrected herself as she recalled that it was actually 1.5 miles and that it was a 3 mile round trip.
We had already passed "Ooh Aah" point and for at least a few minutes I thought that that must be the Indian name.
I was surprised to find that of the 30 or so hikers on that first shuttle, more than half were doing out and backs to the Colorado or coming back up the Bright Angel in the same day. Most of the people we talked to were doing that. In fact we only saw 2 hikers on the trail actually camping at the BA Camp grounds.
From that first Rest-house the trail drops again and is mostly in full sun from here until just past the next Rest-house. From above at Skeleton Point the switchbacks below look ridiculous and then you learn that those switchbacks were hiding more switch backs. I actually started feeling a little dizzy through this area. I think from the exposure from the sun and just switching back and forth. It was short lived nothing a little snack and some more water couldn't handle. I had picked some flotsam on the way down guessing that someone ahead of us lost some gear. It turned out to be good karma at the second rest-house. We arrived just as a mule tour was beginning to dismount so we rushed over before it got to crowded. I found the girl who had lost her gear she was just realizing she had lost it. Then together Wendi and I dropped our packs to use the outhouses. When I came back out there were two people with their hiking sticks defending our packs against the squirrels, thus repaying my good karma. Never again did we leave our packs undefended. We needed two things now, to have some snacks and some shade and though I never thought I would find solace in the shade of an outhouse it worked perfectly, though we should have just continued on because the trail drops again and this time offers some nice shady spots and soon the Colorado River is constant companion. Up until this final drop we had been pretty positive and were beginning to think we would escape infamously pained "Canyon Shuffle". Au Contraire! If weren't for the fact we could practically see the end of the trail we probably would have given up. The sight of the mule train coming up the trail gave us a shot of adrenaline too, that was pretty cool. We just stood off trail and let them pass. It was near a particularly beautiful section of trail that looks like it cut and polished out shear rock very cool. We were practically crawling down the switchbacks the Black Bridge now always present but never getting closer. One of the groups of hikers that started with us were now heading back up, those pumpkin Crossfit pumpkins were practically running back up! I took some solace noting that they didn't have 30lbs of water and supplies strapped to their backs.
Finally we hit bottom and stepped through the tunnel, I was surprised to not be able to see straight through the tunnel but it turns a little, and then finally there's the bridge. Yeah!
We went straight to the camp-grounds and picked #19. Just our size close to the river and though sparse had some shade for our tent.
We had doffed our packs and attacked our lunches while paining over our legs. Our hamstrings were shot. Advil for everyone! Also, my new favorite, shots of Herbal Elements. I also had to admit to Wendi that I had lied about having freshly clipped toe-nails, the price for that was a couple of sore toes which I immediately found relief after a little self-pedi.
We cooled off in Bright Angel creek and watch a little yellow bird gleaning little snacks here and there. Then I went to claim our duffel which was maybe a little easier than I would have liked. Pretty much find your pack and go, I was trying to make it more complicated by trying to find someone to give my claim ticket to and have them recover my pack, silly me. It was strange to strap on the my old sea-bag again, felt like I was back in the Navy.
Back at camp I began setting up the tent. We were expecting some inclement weather so I made sure stake it down good. Every now and again a deer or two sometimes a fawn, paying no heed to activities on this side of the creek, would saunter by grazing on the greenery. A large raven seemed to be intent on harassing them from time to time, as if waiting for them to uncover something of interest.
Around 4:00 the winds began picking up so we made our way to the Canteen for their famous lemonade and that did not disappoint. I was disappointed to find that they were out of hats to buy but we did mail ourselves a postcard. Then we made sure to catch Ranger Mandy's talk on "D.U.D.E. Grand Canyon Rocks!". She asked that everyone tell at least one person D.U.D.E. meant and so I will write it here...Deposition - Undercutting - Downcutting - more Erosion, this is how the Grand Canyon was formed. You'll have to hike down there yourself to hear the rest. She was a lot of fun.
Then it was back to the Canteen for our long awaited Steak Dinner! "Long awaited" for those who don't know means that we placed our order a year ago. Boy, was it good! And of course the Grand Canyon Amber Ale was a good way to finish the meal. We had fun talking to our fellow dining companions, most of whom came by mule. Our hostess informed us that only 1% of the visitors make it to Phantom Ranch and even less than that "Make it back out!"
Back at camp, the winds started building steam. I neglected to yet mention that the camp sites were all layered in sand. We had been happy to see that when we first got to the camp grounds but this became the bane of our existence in very short order. I looked inside our tent and everything was covered in a very fine sand, filtered by the No-Seeum mesh. Immediately we began cleaning it all out but that was futility in the still increasing winds. Soon I was resetting my lines to better brace the tent whose frame was fighting to keep from buckling in the winds. Even still I had to use the Ammo Cans to better brace the lines, I had hoped they would also act as barrier against the onslaught of sand. I never thought I would prayer for rain while camping but anything to stop that sand. We tried to relax with some wine and a little chit-chat but around 7:00 we had to take cover in the tent, after bailing sand one more time. For Valentines day I had put together a grab-bag of hiking supplies for Wendi, which include a Buff. This turned out to be the perfect for keeping most of the sand out of her face, she found she could still see and breathe through the material. I just had a bandanna which worked well but I made Wendi admit that that buff was the best Valentines Day gift ever. I now have my own buff but Wendi is certain that there slim odds we will ever be in a sandstorm again.
Once in the tent I found I was having to brace the frame with my feet whenever a strong gust would come in, the frame rebounded every time but I wanted to reduce the fatigue. My night was spent listening for the gusts building strength either from down the canyon or up the canyon or from the east, once I was alarmed to hear it coming from both up the canyon and down the canyon at the same time, I was sure that was gonna be the end, but they just cancelled each other out. Once the impact was imminent I would once again raise my feet to brace the walls against the winds, finding my self again reminiscing about my Navy days. This was very nearly like some of the exercises they used in boot-camp when they got bored torturing us with push-ups. Wendi, to my utter shock, managed to go to sleep, I was happy to hear her quiet little snores... happy wife, happy life. Finally about 2:30 in the morning the rains came. The winds never stopped but at least the sand wasn't coming in with them. I managed to get some sleep but another thing I was battling was my Exped air mattress. It acquired a slow leak this trip, so I was refilling it every couple of hours. Luckily Wendi's was holding strong. Every now and again through out the night we had to pick out the chunks of sand that had clumped at the corner of eyes, I marvelled at how effective our eyes were at carrying the sediment away.
The winds settled down some by morning. We awoke to the sounds of our fellow campers beating the sand from their own mats and bed linens. I really can't describe the hell that was the "Great Grand Canyon Sandstorm of 2014" but I was there.
Of course our bodies laboured to rise, crippled from hiking in and mine more so from the night's callisthenics. Green Tea for me, coffee for the missus. Wendi had put together an excellent breakfast mix with some granola, brown sugar, cranberries, powdered milk. Just add water! Delish! We had planned to hike the River Trail today. We knew planning this hike that weren't gonna be fit enough for some of the other popular hikes but even the idea of going back up even a few switchbacks we came down was unpleasant to think about. But we forced ourselves into action, we couldn't not see what we came so far to see. Those initial switchbacks were indeed torturous to our hobbled legs but we made it up to the River Trail and manage to enjoy high views of the Colorado river, the intermittent rains, and the clouds that occasionally cleared to blue skies and back to grey. We hoped to watch the boat tours disembark from the beaches but they seemed intent on staying there for hours. We watched a group of deer, mill about near the water treatment area, we would later find them reclined at the BA Corrals, ready for a photo op. When we got to the Silver Bridge we found ourselves wondering what was in store for tomorrows hike out.
Lunch was salami and crackers. More deer, more squirrels. The squirrels are always present if there is food, sans the steak dinner. The raven was back harassing the deer. I noticed the fawn seemed to follow several paces behind Momma. I am not sure but it seemed like the fawn was scenting where the mother had eaten and would follow suit, not directly watching but learning by smelling. We never did see any bull deer the entire trip. Only one deer seemed to ever get spooked. It came barrelling through the campsites along the back wall, stopped for a second as if trapped by us gawkers and then took off again. Not sure what spooked it.
Dinner was another one of Wendi's best, Salmon Alfredo. No joke, delish. We dehydrated some canned corn, white cheddar macaroni mix, and salmon in a foil pouch. Boil some water and you're good to go. I did make the mistake of drinking way too much wine, but if I didn't drink it, I was packing it out. The two cartons were the equivalent to 6 glasses of wine. This insured I was good and hung over for our hike out the next day.
Breakfast on day 3 was a bagel and cream cheese that came from the sack lunch we had pre-ordered at the Canteen. The plan was to be only carrying water and the sack lunches for the hike out but just before morning there was another shot of rain and there was not time to dry out the tent and still have the duffel ready for the mules. This added an extra 2lbs that had to born by us unless we wanted to pay an additional $68.00. My argument that it was water-weight didn't... well, hold water.
We began the trek up at about 6:50 a.m. It was rough but at least this dreary weather became an asset. I can't imagine we would have successfully hiked out if it were much warmer. Our legs still pretty sore, and I with hang-over, we set a slow pace and just tried to enjoy our surroundings. I was a little disappointed that the River Trail dipped back down after taking us up for a ways but the sight of the Bright Angel Trail perked us up. Pipe Creek was a moral booster, I mock complained that no said anything about creek crossings. We were a little surprised by a seagull, possibly injured, taking shelter in the rocks next to the creek. I wondered if it had been knocked of course by the heavy winds the night before last.
A short distance from the seagull, is when I started hearing behind us singing, they would eventually over take us. It was a very young boy, maybe 8, and his grandfather. They both waved cheerfully as they went. The boy singing that song "...Hurrah! Hurrah!", I couldn't make the rest of lyrics to know for sure what he was singing, but it was to the tune of "When Johnny Come Marching Home". He had his own pack and singing away. A few other groups past us then too, we happened to be eating our bagel breakfast at that time. We were within sight of where Garden Creek dumps into the Pipe, just below the first set of switch backs. Close by was some kind of cave that was clearly man-made, but it was off trail and up a short hill, a number of people made a side trip out of it but not me, I wasn't going up any unnecessary hills.
We started up those switchbacks a good fifty feet before I realized I left my ballcap behind. I hated having to go back down but L-N-T. By the time we got to the top of those switchbacks we started seeing people coming down the trail as well as up. What was funny, when paused either for breaks or to let someone pass, often multiple groups would converge on us, and everyone made their own assumptions about which direction we were going and give us advice. I called one girl a liar, for telling us we were almost there, "You can do it!", I didn't catch on that she thought we were headed down until a while later. Another kid advised us to conserve our water, don't make the mistake he once made on this trail. We happened to be 20 ft from trickling water, I had 4 litres of 5 still in my pack alone, a water filter, and the promise of potable water at least 3 different locations. I started realising that I needed to adjust my attitude because these interactions weren't as negative as my brain was painting them. Time to forget about the pain and focus on how beautiful this trail was, we had just come up on the shady confines of Garden Creek so getting in the right frame of mind came pretty quickly.
I had had my Goal-Zero strapped and opened on my pack and it was getting lots of comments and questions about it, especially as more and more down-hikers were passing us. I was using it to keep my cellphone charge for pictures as well as the batteries for my GPS. I have had it for several years but have not really employed it this way before, which is really the way it was meant to be used. In the future I will rethink the amount of rechargeable batteries I backpack with, they are large percentage of my pack weight and I really didn't need may be a couple extra with Goal-Zero doing it's job, of course that is dependant on the quality of sunshine.
We still hadn't reached Indian Gardens, but close when heard a chopper overhead. It turned out to be a Med-Evac, and we hoped that everyone was O.K. We would learn later that a lady had fallen from Mather Point, she didn't survive. We don't know for sure that this chopper had anything to do with that incident but our thoughts were hopeful.
I am still confused at the signage where the Tonto intersects with the BA. "Indian Gardens - 3 miles - and an arrow". 3 miles! I knew this couldn't be right, we needed to be, according to popular wisdom, at the Indian Gardens by 11:00 or consider hunkering down till late afternoon to finish the hike. It was then about 10:15 and by 10:45 were sitting at Indian Gardens, luxuriating in the shade, watching squirrels seek out unsuspecting victims, their biggest score was large bag of gummy worms but that victory quickly reduced to an all out squabble between 3 squirrels in a cloud of dust and squeals until finally one ran out with the bag in his teeth ne'er to be seen again.
I was also surprised to see the Little Drummer Boy and his Grandfather resting with us. But it was just a short time later that they set back out, still singing his song. I was amazed at how many youngster we saw through out this trip. Lots of trail runners too. One of the odder couples was an Asian couple. We first saw them towards the end of the Indian Gardens Campgrounds, they were coming from the top, the lady was running ahead with the husband coming up behind looking pretty winded and carrying a shoulder bag. It was funny then, but later we would see them, as we were near the top, only now she has the bag and now running even further ahead, with the man on verge of collapse, his arm with plaintively groping out in front of him but still managing at least a double-time. As he passed, I jokingly quipped "You got one that's hard to keep up with", he agreed.
Back, standing there, at the southern end of the Indian Gardens we couldn't be stuck by the immensity of the 3,000' obstacle that stood before us. We tried to guess which way, and the how of a trail that conquers this grand wall. But the canyon walls blended together, swallowing the trail, allowing it's secrets to be revealed with each step, one step at time. I was reminded of my first time up to Flatiron, and how the Superstitions seemed to be an impenetrable fortress and how now it failed to measure up to what laid before us. We were grateful that our calves seemed to be recovering, or at least outperforming our expectations, not realizing that going up hill, they were no longer under assault, soon it would be our hamstrings under full attack. But for now it gave us a confidence, naively as it were and of which we would need every last bit, that we could make the next 4 miles of unrelenting ascent.
The beauty of the Bright Angel that was hinted 3 days ago, where we snuck a glimpse before the beginning of this grand adventure, did not disappoint. We were feeding on the adrenaline of it, it was ever changing color and texture. By the time we reached the Three-mile House the trail was getting pretty crowded, a far change from the bottom of the trail. Every one was moving so fast on their unbattered legs. We seemed to be the slowest two on the trail, then, finally, a three person group, composed of a young woman escorting two older women up the trail, the eldest being her 90's and using her hiking sticks as if they could be a walker. Finally we passed someone! But we started realizing that we hadn't considered something preparing for this hike. We had focused on the AEG not the actual Altitude. We were familiar with Altitude sickness from our Mount Graham hike and began to suspect that Wendi was battling the symptoms: Headache(which we realized was big problem the first night in the hotel, it had kept her up), cramps, and mostly wasn't able to get a full breath. We compensated by lots of stops. We then found ourselves battling an even bigger demon, that crazy threesome was gaining ground with that 90 year lady, talking up a storm was gaining ground. Every time we stopped within minutes we could hear her voice and we would force ourselves on. In the end, however, their relentless crawl overtook our relentless crawl. But in the end we finally made it to the top, too tired to even revel in it, but we made it to the top!
It was 3:30, we had met our goal exactly! This left us enough time to unload our packs back at the car, hit the gift shop for some mementos, and still pick up our duffel at the mule barn by 4:00 which meant no $10 late fee.
Driving home that night included a stop at McD's for some chicken sandwiches and fries. By 8:00 we back at home in Phoenix. Recovery time was about a week, the first 3 days were hell, especially climbing the stairs at home. It was all worth it.
|The Tree of Understanding, dazzling, straight, and simple, sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It. - Wislawa Szymborska, "Utopia"|