Today 9/13/2022) we descended into the Grand Canyon, leaving from the South Rim. We are entering the canyon from the South Kaibab Trail. We came up on the North Kaibab trail. The quick stats are 21 miles across, 4500 feet down, 5500 feet up.
After two weeks of 100-115 degree (F) heat and sun, the weather broke in a spectacular way the day before our hike. The South Rim experienced a brief but intense hail storm leaving heaps of hail along the roads. The temperature plunged but the weather here is completely unpredictable.
Our larger worry was that for the past week the Park Service had had water issues with breaks in the pipeline carrying fresh drinking water. Many of the rest stops had no water and water would need to be filtered. As a result I was carrying 3 liters of water and one liter of re-hydration fluid.
There are 16 hikers and 2 drivers in our group . We planned for a 3:30 wake up followed by boarding the vans at 4:15 for the quick drive to the trailhead and a 4:30 start
With our headlamps on we started down the trail in the 54 degree chill. We looked like miners headed off for a day in the mines. Far down the trail you could see the little firefly lights of hikers who had left even earlier
We soon split into small groups based on pace. My group had Alan Tillotson, Gloria Osuna, and Bob Kirkpatrick, who proved to be an amazing group to with which to cross the canyon.
We walked the trail down, easily arriving at the first rest stop around 7 am just as the rain started. It was only a light drizzle that soon stopped and the sun came out.
The hiking from here to our lunch stop was relatively flat (but still downhill) and as the sun came up the colours came out in the towering cliffs around us.
We arrived at 9:15 at the Phantom Ranch, which was closed due to the water issues (I missed out on what is reputed to be the worlds best lemonade) BUT there was potable water so we could refill our water bladders.
After eating some trail mix and electrolyte gummies we set off at 9:30 in rain again. The short stop was to try to traverse what is called “The Box”. This is a 6 mile box canyon with no breeze that during hot spells can be the cause of heat stoke and heat exhaustion.
This is a lovely section of the trail with Bright Angel Creek running alongside it in a series of small rapids that provided a subtle background sound trail to our hike.
We passed a young couple hiking the canyon with the man wearing a knee length kilt.
Interesting. Of course, I asked what he was wearing underneath. “ Nothing” was the answer as you might expect
By 11:00, the sun came out and we were halfway done. Frequently we would have sips of water and electrolytes, eating whenever we reached a rest area (or handy rock seat)
At 2:30, we had rain again for a brief period. The sun came out and we began our ascent. The road up is 8 miles long while ascending 5,500 feet.
After an hour, I was drenched in sweat. I had worn a long sleeved shirt and long pants because of the danger of sunburn. Under the pants I was wearing running shorts to prevent chafing. As we stopped to rest Bob looked at me and said “Aren’t you hot in those pants?” The others had wisely worn shorts.
“They said ”Take your pants off, you’ll feel better”. I admitted “I do better with my pants off. “ which had them laughing for the next 20 minutes. (But it IS true )
We continued with one of the hardest, longest climb I have done hiking. We climbed staircase after staircase and wound our way along 3 foot trails that had a cliff on one side and a 700 foot drop on the other. If you are afraid of heights the advice was “Hug the wall and look at the wall – not over.”
Approaching the end of the climb, I bonked with a mile to go. Runners are familiar with bonking which occurs when your carb stores are depleted. You are exhausted and nauseated and feel like crap. Gloria helped me grab some gels from my pack and in minutes I was better.
That Last mile kicked my butt (apparently a common experience). We passed the area where tourists taking the mule tours stopped. It is a more of mud bath from the mule hooves which is supplemented by massive quantities of mule poop and urine, a lovely combination guaranteed to bring back any nausea immediately.
As we approached the top at 7:30 we could hear the cheers of our greeting committee. They presented us with large cans of beer at the end of the trail and shot photos of our bedraggled crew.
They shuttled us back to the cabins before returning for the last group. I stripped and staggered to my hot shower (which felt great).
A slice of pizza and another beer presaged my quick exit back to the cabin where I crawled into my bed and was dead to the world in seconds.