Tag Archives: Grand Canyon

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 than mine.

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 me “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 wasn’t 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 . . .

There’s more than one way to explore a canyon.

DSCN0183Although I haven’t given up on my plans to camp at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, my failed attempt left me searching for alternative ways to enjoy the canyon. I discovered a fantastic opportunity to explore–not only the Grand Canyon, but Glen Canyon and Antelope Canyon–by air, land and water. It was an excursion offered by Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines and it is worthy of a spot on everyone’s bucket list.

Because our twelve-hour day would begin at  5:45 a.m., we decided DSCN0159to drive to the canyon the day before and stay at the Thunderbird Lodge–very nice accommodations on the canyon rim. We arrived at the canyon in time to enjoy a picnic lunch. After checking in to our room, we decided to use the shuttle to take the DSCN0169West Rim Drive. We usually avoid this option on day trips because it is so time-consuming, but since we had a free afternoon we gave it a try. It was a cloudy day, but no rain fell on us as we traveled from viewpoint to viewpoint, each more spectacular than the one before.

Up early the next morning, we had a short drive back to the airport in Tusayan. On our way, we were distracted by a group of elk–including a small calf, and were almost late for our flight. After a box DSCN0185breakfast, provided by the airlines, we boarded our ten-passenger plane and began the flight over the eastern Grand Canyon and into Glen Canyon.  Along the way, we enjoyed views of the Colorado River, and could see the rapids in many places. We flew DSCN0189over the famous Horseshoe Bend–a 260 degree bend in the Colorado River.

After flying over Glen Canyon Dam, our flight continued over beautiful Lake Powell, finally landing in Page, Arizona.  DSCN0201

The next leg of our journey was by land. We were loaded into the back of trucks that had been fitted with bench seats and driven ten miles into the desert. We arrived at a place that seemed pretty desolate. There we not a clue to the spectacular wonders we were about to see in Antelope Canyon.

DSCN0217Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon located on Navajo land. During the monsoon season,  water flows through the canyon and whirls around at up to thirty miles per hour. The result is a canyon one quarter mile deep filled with rock formations that can only be seen to be fully appreciated.  We were fortunate to have a guide who knew all the tricks to get the really superior pictures.DSCN0234DSCN0231

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to the airport, we boarded a bus that took us to the base of Glen Canyon Dam.  There we climbed aboard our pontoon watercraft for a fifteen-mile, still-water float to Lee’s Ferry.DSCN0242

The rock formations along Glen Canyon provided spectacular views. Along the way, we floated through Horseshoe Bend that we had seen and photographed from the air.DSCN0264

Once again we had a very knowledgeable guide who helped us appreciate what we were seeing. He told us that the dark color on the rocks was oxidized manganese  called rock varnish. It takes about a thousand years for that process to take place. Our guide pointed out a place where the rock face had fallen away and some varnish was visible–indicating that the rocks had fallen a thousand years ago. DSCN0261

When we reached Lee’s Ferry, we left the Colorado River and began our three-hour drive back to the South Rim.

On each leg of our excursion, the guide asked where everyone was from. There were travelers from Australia and Brazil. Some people were from Florida, New Jersey,  and Minnesota. But we were the only ones from Arizona. It seemed strange that fellow Arizonans wouldn’t take advantage of such a superior opportunity–especially one in our own back yard.

 

 

 

My not-so-grand canyon trip

DSCN0147I had been attuned to the weather like a sailor for weeks. The much anticipated morning arrived drizzly and gray. But it was my hope that in true Arizona fashion, the sun would melt away the clouds and leave a cool, clear day for our hike.

Driving to the Canyon, a fine mist covered our windshield. By the time we reached the Backcountry Office, the rain forced us inside to finish getting our gear ready.  It would require two bus trips to get to the trailhead since we had missed the last Backpackers Express.

The rain had stopped by the time we reached the trailhead.   The canyon was filled with clouds which was a rare treat for me. But I couldn’t help feeling sorry for first-time visitors who only had that one day to spend at the canyon. They were going to miss the spectacular views that attract people from around the world.

We had gone down several of the switchbacks at the beginning of DSCN0148the South Kaibab Trail when I noticed that Craig did not have his walking sticks. Our son, Mike, had seen some walking sticks leaning against the restroom at the trailhead. He offered to go back and see if they were still there. In the meantime, the rest of our party pressed on down the trail.

After the switchbacks, the trail became rougher and was at a more severe decline. To make matter worse, large pools of water had collected behind little rock dams all along the trail. Mike caught up with us again–without Craig’s walking sticks.

DSCN0150In spite of the weather and the sporadic showers, I was enjoying the hike, stopping occasionally to take a picture. It was at one of those stops, about one and a half miles down, that I looked back to find Craig flanked by Mike and his wife, Vikki. Craig was walking slowly, stumbling at times, and occasionally getting dangerously close to the edge. It was apparent to everyone in our party as well as perfect strangers hiking near us, that Craig was not capable of  safely finishing the remaining five miles let alone the nearly ten-mile hike that would be necessary to leave the canyon on Monday. There was nothing to do but help him get back to the rim. Mike went part of the way with us, carrying Craig’s pack. Once we reached the switchbacks, he left us and returned to finish the descent.

Craig and I made our way slowly up the switchbacks that had DSCN0149seemed so easy to climb down. Once we reached the rim, we rested for a few minutes and then boarded the first of the two buses for the return trip to our car. On the second bus, I was chatting with some other passengers about our experience. I had just told them that Craig had lost his walking sticks, when I realized I no longer had my sticks either. I had left them on the previous bus. The bus driver used his radio to determine that my sticks were on bus 6. I would have to reconnect with bus 6 in order to get the back.

Reaching our car, we threw our packs into the trunk and walked to the Bright Angel Lodge. There was no need to eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I had packed for our lunch. Cold, wet and tired, we were going to enjoy a nice hot meal before going home.  We spent the afternoon retrieving our walking sticks–Craig’s from the Backcountry Office and mine from Bus 6.  While we were waiting for Bus 6 to return to the Visitors Center, it began to snow. In the ten minutes we were away, our car was totally covered with the white stuff. It was necessary to run the defroster for a while before it was safe to drive.  Later, we would pass a snow plow headed for the canyon.

On our drive home in the rain, I contemplated whether we were ready to check in to the Las Fuentes Senior Home. But during the two-hour drive, I concocted a new plan to conquer the canyon. This one is much less ambitious than my original plan. It involves camping at Indian Gardens, which is only 4.5 miles down the Bright Angel Trail. Having some of my gear brought down on a mule is also under consideration. I’m not sure who will go with me–maybe some friends or my grandkids. Sadly, Craig’s canyon hiking days are over.

 

Getting Ready to Hike the Canyon (It only took 67 years.)

grand canyon 20I retired three years ago. It seems to me that one of the purposes of retirement is to fill in the blanks of our lives–to do those things we were too busy to do during our careers. That’s why we make that requisite “bucket list.”

Having lived my entire life in Arizona, and being a avid hiker, I am embarrassed to admit that I have never been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. About twelve years ago, Craig and I hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point. It was a grueling nine-hour hike to complete the twelve miles in and out in one day.  Getting down was fairly easy, but the climb back up was exhausting. When we reached the rim I told Craig that we had to go directly to the lodge and eat dinner. I knew that once I got to our room I would not leave it until morning.

Surprisingly,  we are better prepared to hike the Canyon today than we were back then.  Busy with work, we had little time to hike on a regular basis. The only real planning we did for that trip was making reservations at the lodge.  Now that we are retired, we walk a two-mile route near our home almost every day. Once a week, we try to take a longer (4-7 mile hike). To get ready for this trek, we have been going on even  longer hikes up steeper elevations.

My biggest concern is carrying the gear, as we will be camping for two nights at Bright Angel Campground. Some thirty years ago, we went on backpacking trips with our son’s Boy Scout Troop. I recall being loaded down with heavy packs and hiking ten or twelve miles into the wilderness behind a gaggle of chattering scouts. Craig and I usually arrived first at the campsite. The boys took frequent breaks and I liked to keep going–not because I had more stamina, but because stopping meant taking off the pack and I wasn’t sure I would want to put it back on. It was better for me to just keep going.

Last summer Craig and I found a terrific deal on camping  backpacks at Costco. Apparently that was the impetus I needed to plan a hiking trip into the Canyon. The difficulty of getting a permit was an excuse I often used. Oddly enough, I was successful at getting  one on my first try.

One of the advantages of waiting so long to attempt this hike is that the equipment we need is better made, cheaper and more light-weight than it was thirty years ago. Back then, backpacks were huge monstrosities with frames for attaching sleeping bags and tents. Backpacking gear was horribly expensive.  We rented packs from the Hike Shack until we were able to purchase some used ones. Everything from tents to sleeping bags was heavy and bulky.  I suppose we have the space program to thank for the wonderful options we have today.

We were able to completely outfit our trip at Walmart.  There we   DSCN0142 (1)found sleeping bags that weigh less than two pounds and a two-person tent that weighs five. We bought everything we need for about $150. It all fit efficiently into our packs and we’ll be carrying less than thirty pounds on our backs.

With our packs loaded we went to a nearby trail and walked a four-mile circle. Everything went smoothly. Amazingly, I could hardly notice the weight. That’s because my pack is ergonomically designed to put the weight on my hips–not my back and shoulders.  I am feeling optimistic about the undertaking. I’ll let you know in a future post just how it went–complete with pictures, of course.