Tag Archives: Indian Gardens

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.

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.