All posts by rosemaryheddens

Day Four: The end of the trail

Indian Gardens is a lush oasis halfway down the canyon. It is surrounded by steep vermilion walls. A small creek flows through the campgrounds leaving the trail muddy in spots.

We pitched our tents under a large willow tree. After a nap and lunch, I  was ready to hike to Plateau Point. It was only me and the boys, as everyone else elected to cool off in the creek. The trail to Plateau Point is relatively flat but totally exposed. We were hiking in ninety-degree heat, but without our packs it wasn’t so bad.

When we reached Plateau Point, we could look down at the Colorado River. From another vantage point, we could see much of the trail we had hike that morning. While we were enjoying the view, we encountered an Asian couple who asked us to take their picture. In return, we asked them to take ours.

As we hiked back, we caught up with the couple. She asked, “Grandma, how old?” I told her that I am sixty-eight. She said that she is sixty-two, but her grandchildren are much smaller.

Back at the camp, a ranger came to tell us that she would be giving a talk in the amphitheater. Mike and I decided to check it out. Had I known the topic–Canyon Night Life–I might have skipped it. As I listened to her talk about the creatures that come out at night, all I could think about was that I would be hiking in the dark. Rattle snakes, skunks, scorpions, big horn sheep, and mountain lions are all out there for me to encounter. The rattle snakes in the canyon are pink. We had already seen one in the campgrounds

Still, I decided to stick with my plan to get up early. After dinner, I got my pack ready and then did my best to sleep in spite of the wind that was trying to carry me away in my tent like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. At three o’clock, I was up and getting ready. This time no one else stirred. The entire campgrounds was still except for me scurrying around like a large squirrel.

At four o’clock I was hitting the trail and by five I had reached the Three-Mile rest stop. After a brief pause to have a snack, I pressed on. I had passed the One-and-a-half-mile rest stop before I could reach anyone on the radio. Mike and Vikki were the last to break camp and they were on their way out. I had just over a mile to go before reaching the rim. “If you can’t find me, check in the Bright Angel Lodge. I’m going there for breakfast,” I told Mike.

The last part of the trail is the most challenging. Hikers were coming down the trail, but I was the only one going up.  Just as I was nearing the end of the trail, I encountered two rangers. “Where’s my banner and confetti?” I asked. “I’m the first hiker out of the canyon today.” They were impressed that I had hiked out in only four hours. I was elated that I had made it all by myself. As I told Mike I would, I headed for the lodge and ordered a huge breakfast. Real coffee and food that had not previously been freeze-dried was all I could think about.

After breakfast, I still had an hour to wait before the rest of my party began showing up. Loaded in Mike’s truck, we headed for home and a much-deserved rest.

I had done it! I could check this one off my bucket list.  That first night in Bright Angel Campgrounds, Mike told me that if I ever got another one of these hair-brained ideas , they weren’t in. I would like to say that I now have it out of my system, but the truth is I can’t wait to do it all again. Who will go with me? Maybe I’ll go it alone this time. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Day 3: Indian Gardens

It was still dark when I emerged from my tent to begin the day. My plan was to be on the trail by five a.m. and if things went well, I would reach Indian Gardens before the heat set in. I tried to make as little noise as possible so I wouldn’t wake the rest of the camp, but before I was ready to leave, Mike and Vikki were up. They wished my “Happy Mother’s Day,” and urged me to be careful. I could tell by the look on Mike’s face that he was concerned about watching his mother walk away from camp alone. But we had all agreed that this was the best idea. The rest of our party would be staggering their start so that there would always be someone coming up behind me in case I needed help. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. I was already at Indian Gardens before most of them left camp.

As I hiked down the trail and out of the campgrounds, I felt exhilarated. I was embarking on a great adventure. The nearly full moon lighted my path, making my headlamp almost unnecessary. I hadn’t gone far when I realized there was a large animal on the left side of the trail. It turned out to be a doe, who walked past me close enough that I could have petted her.

Soon I reached Silver Bridge that would take me across the Colorado River. It is a long suspension bridge with a mesh floor that makes the river visible below as you hike across the bridge. The ranger told us that there have been hikers who made it that far and had to turn around because they were too afraid to cross the bridge. I wondered what it would be like crossing in the dark, but it didn’t slow me down at all.

I had hoped to reach the River House, a mile and a half from the campgrounds in an hour, but thirty minutes later, I was there. After another thirty minutes, I found myself at the bottom of Devil’s Corkscrew. Once again, I was attempting the section of the Canyon that had been the most difficult for me hiking in. Only this time, I would be climbing up the Devil’s Corkscrew. Up I went, and to my surprise, it was difficult at all. The sun made its appearance as I neared to top. I stopped to take a picture as a group of men were coming down the trail. One of them said, “You’re making this look easy.” Another man asked if I would like him to take my picture.

With the biggest challenge over, I stopped at the top for a snack and to put on sun screen. After a brief rest, I was ready to begin again. This time, I would be completing the last leg of the four-and-a-half-mile trail. It had been my hope to reach Indian Gardens by nine o’clock, but it was only seven-thirty when I arrived. After a short rest, I hiked to the campground and located our campsite. Now I just had to wait for everyone else to arrive.

Day Two: Bright Angel Campgrounds

After a restless night’s sleep, I unzipped my tent and peeked out to see a beautiful day. It took a while before my muscles would react enough to stand up and walk. After a breakfast of rehydrated biscuits and gravy, I was ready to do some exploring.

The first place I wanted to go was Phantom Ranch. I expected it to be some distance away, but it was only a short walk from our campgrounds.  Phantom Ranch is a collection of small cabins and a bunkhouse with beds that can be rented by hikers. We headed for the canteen, which is open to the public,  so to speak. I was delighted to discover that I could buy a lemonade with all the ice I wanted. This was especially enjoyable after a day of drinking tepid water.  The rest of my party was excited about the fact that the canteen sells Bright Angel IPA–a beer that can only be purchased there. This would necessitate another trip to the canteen in the afternoon.

Returning to the campsite, Mike checked on the beer and wine he had left cooling in the creek. Then we decided to explore Bright Angel Creek to the place where it flows into the Colorado River.

The water was cool and refreshing on such a warm day and we couldn’t resist getting into the creek. Swimming in the Colorado River is dangerous due to strong currents, but we did find a sort of inlet where we could wade in the river. 

After lunch (rehydrated mac and cheese) I decided it was time for a nap. After all, I needed my rest for the climb out. It was while I was resting that I devised my plan to get out of the Canyon on my own power. I knew that it was the heat that made it so difficult for me to keep going on the hike in. If I could leave very early in the morning, I could hike while it was cool and get a good head start before the heat set in. My plan was to leave at four o’clock and to reach Indian Gardens by eight-thirty.

In the afternoon, Mike took me on a hike to see Black Bridge. It is an engineering wonder, held in place by huge cables that are embedded in solid rock. There are eight cables and two wind cables. To get a cable into the Canyon required forty-two Havasupai men to carry them down the South Kaibab Trail.  We walked across the bridge and through the tunnel on the other side. From there I could look up at the South Kaibab Trail, the trail I attempted to go down the year before.

On our way back to camp, we passed by some Indian ruins of the Pueblo People. There are several residences and a kiva.  There was also the grave of  Rees Griffiths, a trail foreman who died from injuries he received while working on the Kaibab Trail.

After dinner, we were visited by the ranger, a friendly woman with quite a sense of humor. When she learned of my difficulties hiking in, she pointed to Mike and asked, “Is that your son, your natural son, that you gave birth to?” When I assured he was, she told him that since the next day was Mother’s Day, as a gift, he should carry something from my pack. After some consideration, I decided to leave my sleeping mat for him to carry, thus lightening my load by about four pounds.

As darkness settled in, I crawled into my sleeping bag and wondered if I would be able to sleep, knowing what tomorrow would bring. Would my plan work? Would I reach Indian Gardens on my own power?

To be continued . . .

My Second Attempt at Conquering the Canyon

Those of you who read my blog may recall that last year I attempted my first backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon. That trip came to an abrupt halt when my husband, Craig, ran into difficulties. It was obvious that he was not capable of such a demanding trek.

A year later, I was attempting it again without Craig. This time I would have to prove myself capable. If I turned around and gave up, it would be because I couldn’t make it. Our party was pretty much the same as last year–My son, Mike and his wife, Vikki, her brother, Bill, and his wife, Katie, Mike’s son, Christopher, and Vikki’s son, Chris.  Instead of going down the South Kaibab as we did last year, we used the Bright Angel Trail in and out. It is about three miles longer, but less steep.  We extended our trip to four days and split our exit into two parts–allowing one night at Indian Gardens, before the four-and-a-half-mile climb to the top.

Hiking the nine-and-a-half miles in was the most difficult for me, and the main reason was the heat. I was hoping for an early start, but it was after eight o’clock when we began our descent. I reached Indian Gardens at about one o’clock, and was already feeling the affects of the temperature.  I rested there for a while and began the last five miles at about one forty-five. At first the trail was fairly flat, although rocky and crossed the creek several times–That was until I reached something aptly named the Devil’s Corkscrew. I stood at the top for a long time, afraid to start down. I watched other hikers go down it, and tried to convince myself that I could do it. Finally, I started down, By that time, the heat was making it very difficult and there was no shade at all. I was stopping quite often, leaning against the side of the canyon to rest. I attempted to reach my son on the radio, but was not successful. It had been at least an hour since I had seen another human being and I was getting a little concerned about my ability to finish the hike. Just before I reached the final switchbacks, I abandoned my pack in an effort to get close enough to reach someone on the radio. At last I did and learned that my grandsons were on their way back to help me with my pack.  I reached the Bright Angel Campgrounds before dark. Too tired to eat dinner, I crawled into my tent and slept. I’m sure I was suffering from some dehydration as my legs were cramping. Chris,  who carried my pack the last few miles, was throwing up from exhaustion. But we were all safely at the camp. Tomorrow would be a day to rest and explore the canyon. Then I would have to face the next two days’ climb to reach the rim. Could I make it? I had my doubts, but I needed to do my best to make it on my own–not putting anyone else’s health at risk.

To be continued . . .

My Little Mass Journal

Each week, when I go to mass, I carry with me my Mass Journal. It’s a tiny book, but it has a big impact on my life.  Each week, I write something in my journal–something God tells me to write.

It requires faith. First of all, I must have faith that God will talk to me sometime during the mass and that He will tell me to do something. So far, he has never let me down. Then, I must have faith that God will be with me, so that I can carry out what He gives me to do. And finally, I must have faith that it will change my life.

I try not to think about my Mass Journal until the offertory. At that time, I read the prayer on the back.  Then I wait. Sometimes mass is almost over before I know what I’m to do.

On Easter Sunday, I went to the early mass, hoping to get ahead of the crowds that usually fill our church during the 9:30 mass on that day. As I always do, I waited until the offertory to ask God what He wanted me to do this week. And as He always does, He told me.  I wrote it down in my journal.

The next weekend, as I was leaving for mass, I grabbed my journal. “What was I supposed to do this week?” I asked myself. “Whatever it was I didn’t do it.” Opening my journal, I read, “Open your heart to someone in need this week. I will show you who it is.” I was surprised at what I had written. No person in need had presented himself to me this week–or maybe I was too busy and didn’t notice.

Off I went to mass, carrying my journal with me, ready for a new assignment. Just before mass began, a young man from Central America spoke to us. Struggling with English, he explained that he was raising money to help people in need. He was asking us to buy a book about our faith. He was selling the books for five dollars. As mass began, I thought about whether or not I should buy a book. I had a twenty-dollar bill in my car. I could go get it after mass. Other people would probably buy books, so maybe I wouldn’t bother. But what if no one did? I didn’t want this young man to go away empty handed.

When it was time for the offertory, I picked up my mass journal. There I read what I had written the week before–but something else had been added. It was not in my handwriting, and it had not been there when I had taken out my mass journal to bring it with me to mass. But there it was plain as day–

There was no doubt in my mind what I was supposed to do. I gave the young man the $20. “No,” I said. “I don’t need any change. This is for you.”

A Cruise Ship, A Camel, Kirstin and Me

  Kirstin and I have always had a special bond that made spending time together a real treat. Recently, we took a cruise to the Mexican Riviera and that bond became stronger than ever.

As we hoped, we did find time to rest, read, and play cards. But we also had lots and lots of fun. Our first port of call was Cabo San Lucas. There we took an Unamog  trip into the desert, where we road a camel along the beach. Then we were introduced to a camel named Pecos who was so gentle and patient with people that we were able to pet and kiss him.  Kirstin fed Pecos a carrot from her hand. I was brave enough to put the carrot in my mouth.

After meeting Pecos we took a short walk to learn about desert plants. They have many of the same cacti that we have in Arizona. One exception is a cactus that looks like a saguaro. It is actually called cardón. We saw one that is over 350 years old.

After a delicious lunch of chicken mole,  Kirstin and I drank tequila with lime and salt. We even tried mescal.

The next day, we were in Mazatlán. There I drove a mini speedboat through a beautiful waterway lined with plants and lots of birds. Kirstin took pictures while I became more and more comfortable with driving the boat. Later, we dipped our feet in the ocean and wrote messages in the sand. A dear friend of mine passed away last year. She loved Mazatlán. So I wrote a message to her.

Our final port of call was Puerto Vallarta.  After leaving our ship, we boarded a party boat that took us to the island of Las Caletas, named after the plant that grows everywhere. You may remember in the Eagles song, “Hotel California,” the line, “warm smell of Caletas rising up through the air.” Now I know what that is.

There was a lot to do on Las Caletas. We took out a kayak, rested in a hammock, and snorkeled–at least I snorkeled. Kirstin got dressed up in the gear, but panicked when we got in the water.

After lunch, before boarding the party boat to go back to Puerto Vallarta, Kirstin and I had an encounter with a monkey, a macaw, and a very large snake.

It was a great trip and I would be happy to have Kirstin as my traveling companion any time. She was up for whatever fun I had in mind. She tried frog legs, learned to dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller, and rocked out at the 80’s Glow Party on the Lido deck. She was always ready to go, no matter what. (Except for holding the snake and kissing the Macaw.)

Every day is an adventure.

It has been nearly four years since I retired. I’m not really sure how I thought my retirement would be. But I’m pretty sure that I would have attacked retirement just like I have every other stage of my life–full steam ahead and don’t look back!  In no time at all, I would have taken on enough commitments to fill a forty-hour workweek, and beyond.  Fortunately, our current situation has saved me from all that. It has helped me to learn to live one day at a time–not thinking and planning for a future–but enjoying each moment of today.

I say, “our situation” because whatever we face, we are in this together. I know that friends and family members think  what I am dealing with is very challenging. But I am not sure that I have the most difficult challenge. Craig is not able to articulate what he is going through, so there is no way to fully understand. But it must be frightening at times to face a world that he doesn’t seem to fit into any more. He should know how things work and what to do, but the fact is he doesn’t. He doesn’t understand why I have to wait at a red light. He doesn’t understand why he can’t open a package of food in a store and eat it without paying. I’m sure he has no idea why I’m upset when he does that. It must seem to him that the world is a very confusing place.

That’s why we are spending more and more time at home. He is comfortable and confident there. He marches through the house saying , “Hup, hup, hup, hup! He goes out the back door and around to the front door where he rings the doorbell over and over. While this is annoying at times, it seems to make him happy.  He roams our acreage and finds things to entertain himself, giving me a chance to do what I need to do. This is the world he likes to be in–our world.

Craig’s brother, Mark, stayed with Craig for a few days while I attended docent training at the Highlands Center. Mark described it as “hours of butt-numbing boredom interrupted by seconds of gut-wrenching terror.” I agree there are times when things get a little scary. Like the time Craig followed the claims adjuster up the ladder onto the roof. It was probably only a few minutes, but it seemed like hours trying to coax him back down the ladder. Then there was the time when he put the grill cover back on the gas grill while food was cooking on it. Or the countless times when I’ve lost him in stores and amusement parks and while hiking.

Yes, I agree with the terrifying part, but not the boredom. I have plenty to do around here. Just in case I might get bored, Craig keeps me on my toes. There’s always a mystery to solve– Where is the power cord for the television?  Why did he squirt chocolate syrup all over? What happened to that screwdriver I was just using? Bored–NEVER! As I like to say, “Every day is an adventure.”