Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Down & Up the Grand Canyon

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was eerily quiet when the shuttle van driver pulled into the campground. "Good luck and have fun", he said before speeding off towards the much more populated South Rim, some 200+ miles away. We stretched our arms after the 4.5 hour trek and gazed around at our surroundings. The entire campground had closed for the season, so we were now on our own for the next few days. Our journey would begin the next morning and end, two days later, on the other side of the canyon.

Before starting, our crew of three (me, my buddy and old roommate Will and his friend Josh) decided to head out on a short day hike to explore the splendor of the quiet North Rim without busloads of foreign tourists and plump American senior citizens often found at the South Rim. Upon returning from Bright Angel Point, we discovered that ravens had ransacked our food stores. Five of our much needed freeze-dried meals were reduced to powdery crumbs that were scattered about the campground floor. We sighed and realized there was nothing we could do but conserve our remaining grub (since all concessions at the North Rim were shut down for the season). Dejected, we hunkered down in our respective tents and awaited dawn.

The next morning we marched into sunlight towards the North Kaibob Trailhead. I began to regret packing such a heavy pack (I weighed it after the hike and the scale hit 46lbs), but, like the food mishap the evening before, there was nothing I could do about it. The route zigzagged back and forth down a hot dusty trail. We descended a few thousand feet in the first couple of hours. After spending all morning in the sun, we were delighted to spy a waterfall just off the trail. Naturally, we decided to explore and cool off in the cool water - water that literally poured out of the rock wall of the canyon. By early afternoon we arrived at Cottonwood Campground ready for a meal. Will struck out with his $20 Chinese-made fishing pole in an attempt to catch dinner in Bright Angel Creek. I laughed at the idea at first, but, realizing we need the food, I quickly waded into the cold, clear stream and began searching for trout. Someway, somehow we found a rainbow trout and someway, somehow, Will caught it. That night we slept under the night sky sans tent and watched falling stars. The moon, not even full, was so bright it kept some of us up at times. There isn't much to dull the brightness of a moon in the middle of the dry desert.

We awoke early next morning and slithered our packs back on our aching backs. The journey wouldn't prove difficult, since we'd only descend a couple thousand feet (as opposed to 4,000 the day before), and we were surprised to learn that we rarely walked through sun. We hadn't missed a meal yet, but we would need to get a dinner tonight to stay on that schedule. Seven miles later we wandered into the cantina at Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch sits at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and is frequented by hikers, river runners and those who venture into the inner canyon via mule. In fact, it's one of only two places left in the States where mail is still delivered by mule. We were fortunate enough to get reservations for the last 3 steak dinners available for dinner and we inhaled them. At camp, I spied a gray fox and curious creatures known as ringtails. That night we psyched ourselves up for the 9-mile uphill (5,000 feet in elevation) hike we'd commence the next morning.

We awoke well before dawn and began pumping ourselves with coffee, tea, oatmeal and other warm morning treats. In the early morning light, an 8-point mule deer charged through the creek in front of us and ran right through our campground. We looked at each other and realized it was time to go. The first half of the trek was fairly uneventful. We SLOWLY made our way up the wall of the canyon, meandering around big horn sheep, ultra-friendly ground squirrels and happy-go-lucky hikers walking DOWN the trail. The Bright Angel Trail was easy to follow but we rarely ventured off trail to explore. Today was about getting it done. Early in our adventure an old timey hiker told us "When you get to the top, you'll be exhausted. Have fun while you're hiking, but keep moving...keep moving". We stopped for a "lunch" mid-morning, but aside from that we "kept moving". Each of us decided to hike our own pace once we got within 3 miles from the rim. The last 3 miles is composed of steep switchbacks. At times you look up and see only rock and wonder where the trail actually was and it was easier to look down at your feet than up at all. We never forgot where we were though and each of us would stop and marvel in the splendor of the canyon at every turn. It truly was amazing. I tightened the cords on my pak until the straps rubbed against my skeleton, then I tightened them more. I leaned into the hill and kept a steady 20-min mile pace during the final ascent. FINALLY, I spied the top of the trail head above to my left. It was all over now. I reconnected with my teammates and we took one final look at the epic trek we'd completed.

The old hiker was right, I was beat, but also elated. We then proceeded to a restaurant where I dined on a bacon cheeseburger and cold beer. We were done.

6 comments:

Charlie Ban said...

Where else is mail delivered by mule?

TerribleTerry said...

great post. No wonder I hate the Ravens!

KLIM said...

The Indian village of Supai - also in the Grand Canyon - but 50 miles or so to the west of where we were.

Anonymous said...

Indiana Klim and the Canyon of Doom

Dash said...

This is completely awesome. Like 20 years I read a race report about the Rim to Rim Grand Canyon race in RW, while I happened to be in AZ. I became obsessed with the idea of it after visiting it. Especially knowing the climate change you must have dealt with daily.

GC is one of the most amazing sights to witness, even standing before it, you feel as though you are looking at a picture. I don't think the mind can can grasp it.

Congratulations, sounds like a truly great time.

KLIM said...

Thanks Dash. Someday I'll run R2R...