Wednesday, October 1, 2008


   YEAH - WE DID IT!!!!  Yes, my friend Kay and I hiked ACROSS THE GRAND CANYON!!!!!  We left the North Rim to hike down the North Kaibab trail at 5:45am on Tue., 23Sep and reached the South Rim at the Bright Angel Trail head at about Noon on Fri. 26Sep.  As with most things, not all went according to plan and we had to stay flexible and make adjustments along the way, but the trip was still awesome and I’d recommend it to everyone.  It was a fantastic experience and I’d do it again, and hopefully will, with only a few modifications.
     The first difficulty we encountered was Kay’s reaction to hiking in the heat.  We didn’t realize it would affect her so adversely.  Although we’d done several practice hikes with backpacks, weights, water, etc., they were all in the Uinta’s  at altitudes of about 8,000 ft, and  in temperatures of 75 or less.   While the temperature was about 28 degrees when we started, as we got lower in elevation and the day heated up, it didn’t take long until we were hiking in temps in the 80' s and even the 90's by afternoon.   Although everything we had read said to figure on averaging 2 miles an hour downhill, with the heat and steepness, we had trouble making one mile an hour.  The mules use the same trail, and as a result,  parts of it were very rough, with logs and rocks placed  across it to prevent erosion.  This created obstacles to step over and the equivalent of very steep steps downhill, especially for short legs.   The trail was cut into the
side of the canyon, with steep drop offs on the side, although it was always 4-5 feet wide.
    We reached the halfway point, Cottonwood Campground (7 miles from the start), at about 3 in the afternoon.  We stopped for an hour, so Kay could lay in the shade and see if we could continue.  I also had her put on and wet down a cotton t-shirt to help cool her off and I did the same.  I wanted to talk with a ranger about hiking options, but couldn’t locate one.  At 4pm we decided to continue on to Phantom Ranch.  We knew it would be cooler in the evening and we’d finish in the dark, but we both had headlamps and flashlights.  Several other hikers had mentioned to us that we should have planned to stay overnight at Cottonwood, but we hadn’t brought supplies for that and the only reference I’d seen to taking the hike down in two days referred to hiking in the summer.   We didn’t realize it would still be so hot the end of September.  For those wondering, we had been drinking water with electrolytes and eating energy bars & salty foods.  There were 3 water stops each on the way down and back up, so getting enough liquids wasn’t a problem under normal circumstances..
    The views were amazing and we enjoyed seeing the climate & vegetation changes from a Douglas and Ponderosa Forest at the top to desert conditions further down the trail.  After about 5 miles, we had a creek running in the canyon with us, so there were sporadic bushes and trees alongside it.  The last four miles were in what is called, “the box.”  It’s a narrow canyon of Vishnu Schist, the oldest rock in the Canyon at about 1.7 billion years old.   The rock is very dark and almost black.  We started into the box about 7pm as it was getting dark and finished the narrowest section, crossing several bridges in the dark, so didn’t get to see much of it.  My headlamp had grown too dim and I was using a flashlight, so Kay was in the front and came to a halt when she saw a pink Grand Canyon rattlesnake on the trail.  At this point the trail was about 4-5 feet wide and straight up on one side and straight down on the other side.  The snake was undecided
about where to go, but eventually started straight up.  Kay dashed past it and as she did, it turned quickly and started back down. It was now looking at me and coming VERY slowly in my direction.  After several minutes I decided to hurry it along and from a safe distance started tossing rocks towards its back end.  It finally left the trail and I dashed up to Kay.  Of course, we wondered about the rattlers we HADN’T seen along the trail. 
    We finally saw lights on the South Rim and then a sign that said we were only about ½ a mile from Phantom Ranch.  What a welcome sight they were!  We kept going through the ranch buildings when we reached it, until we came to the canteen and reception hall.  There were two employees cleaning up and setting up for breakfast when we got there at 9:45pm, 16 hours after we’d started our 14 mile hike.  They had our names from the reservations made a year earlier and offered to reheat our dinner, (also reserved a year ago), which we gratefully accepted.   Kay inquired as to whether they had a duffel available for the day we left.  They did and we reserved and paid for that.  You can have a duffel (weighing up to 30 lbs), taken out by mule for $62.  We thought this would lighten our packs and make it easier hiking out on Thur, so split one.
    After a delicious meal of hiker’s stew, biscuits, and chocolate cake, we headed toward our dorm.  They told us it was full, but there would be 2 empty beds.  With 5 bunk beds in the dorm, of course the two empty beds were upper bunks.   Everyone was asleep, or at least in bed with a dark room when we got there, but between our flashlights, bumping around, climbing up and down and up again, showers, etc., we probably managed to wake anyone still sleeping by the time we settled in about 11pm. 
    About half of us had the early breakfast (5am) reserved, so there was a knock on the door at 4:30am alerting us all.  Kay still wasn’t feeling well, so I went over with the other gals.  Meals are served family style.  They had orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes.  It was wonderful and they let me bring Kay’s back to her, along with some coffee.   Kay headed for a shower and I decided to hike the river trail with a couple other gals while it was still cool.    It was only about 2 miles all together, so wasn’t bad.  Seeing the Colorado River was proof we were really at THE BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON, and very exciting!  About 8  mules were loaded with passengers and waiting to cross the black bridge into a tunnel to the South Kaibab trail and up out of the canyon. They were waiting for a pack mule train coming down with food and supplies. Since they don’t allow hikers on the bridge or in the tunnel with the mules, we went the other direction and hiked to the silver bridge (you can see through the metal slats to the river below, so the mules won’t cross it).   We crossed to the other side and hiked the river trail to where it meets the S. Kaibab trail and went down it and through the tunnel.  We watched some rafts going by and other rafts pulled up at the boat beach.   I knew we wouldn’t come this direction the next day, so had wanted to see this area, as the black bridge is the one you can see from the South Rim.  On the way back to the Ranch, I told the others to go ahead and found two geocaches I knew were down there. 

    After I got back, Kay was feeling better, so we went over to the lodge to write and mail postcards.  They are all stamped with a note that they are “mailed by mule from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”  Several others were doing the same thing and it was funny to note we were all have a little trouble writing clearly.  All those who had hiked in the previous day were doing what was called the Kaibab Shuffle, a gait that involved lifting the leg as little as possible, after the heavy downhill hikes to get there.  This was especially notable on the four steps leading up and down from the canteen and our dorm.  We also purchased shirts, caps, and pins that are only available at Phantom Ranch.  Knowing we had the duffel to take some things out helped.
    I had picked up our sack lunches at breakfast and with most of our dorm we went down to Bright Angle Creek where we soaked our feet and legs in the cool, refreshing water.  It felt so........ good!  In the afternoon we enjoyed a nap, before we went to hear a ranger presentation about the geology of the canyon.  We had the early dinner at 5pm, a delicious salad, New York Steaks, baked potatoes, corn, peas, carrots, rolls, and once again chocolate cake for dessert.  Lemonade, tea, coffee, and water were the beverages of choice, although you could buy beer and wine.    After dinner we went to another ranger presentation on the history of Phantom Ranch and then by 9:30pm we were all ready to get some sleep for our hike out the next day.
    After our 4:30 wake up, we had breakfast at 5, gathered our lunch supplies, took our duffel over for the mules to take out, and headed for the trail by about 5:45am.  We crossed the silver bridge and headed along the river to the Bright Angel Trail.  Kay didn’t feel good almost from the start and couldn’t understand why she felt so weak.  We took it easy and were in the shade most of the morning.  We had already decided that we would hike the 5 miles to Indian Gardens and wait there until 3 or 4 in the afternoon before hiking the remaining 4.6 miles out of the canyon.  The first 5 miles only went up about 1200 feet with the final 3100 feet in elevation gain all being in the last portion of the hike.  We arrived at Indian Gardens about noon and immediately headed for shade and wet down shirts to put on.  After the first trip to the restroom, Kay started having diarrhea, adding to her problems with the heat.  I was getting really concerned and went to
the Visitor Center.  There was a note there saying the ranger was in the area and to use the emergency phone to reach him.   After letting it ring for 20 minutes I went back to get Kay and moved her and our packs to a picnic table outside the center.  The emergency phone was still ringing with no answer.  We discovered we had intermittent cell phone service and were able to reach our husbands.  I asked Gary to go into the Bright Angel Lodge at the top of the canyon and tell someone I needed a ranger.  I talked with an experienced canyon hiker who gave suggestions for what I could do in the meantime.  We’d already done everything except cut our electrolyte drinks in half with water.  About 15 minutes later Ranger Pete showed up, having been radioed from the top and told where we were.   He also told us the emergency phone was out of order.
    After hearing her symptoms and talking with Kay, Pete decided she might have the flu.  I’d been worrying so much about heat exhaustion and heat stroke, I hadn’t thought of anything that simple. Kay mentioned that unknown to me, one of the gals in our dorm had been sick too.  With that, Pete took us to a camp shelter in the shade, as it was thundering now and looking like rain.  We decided to wait a couple hours, see how Kay felt, and decide whether to try and hike out or wait until the next day.  Pete said he had supplies he could lend us if we stayed.  Kay rested a bit, but when she started vomiting, we decided not to attempt to hike out that night.  When Pete came back, I went with him and got 2 mats, 2 sleeping bags, and a tent.  Pete not only helped me set it all up, he later brought Kay chicken noodle soup, me some beef stew, along with rolls, apples, carrots, and pretzels for both of us.  What a wonderful guy he was!  Another hiker we’d met
on the trail also brought us noodles and we had another one come offer food, but declined, as we had plenty.  I was able to text Gary and let him know we were spending the night, so the guys wouldn’t worry. 
    Kay spent the evening laying down and resting and I  read and reread the one small pamphlet I had with me.  We’d sent most of our stuff in the duffel out with the mules, so we didn’t have changes of clothes or any extras.  Fortunately we’d both kept enough in the way of energy bars, and electrolyte mixes.  By 7:30 it was dark and I went to bed too.  At 5am we were both awake and Kay was feeling much better.  I  however, now also had the flu, but decided to hike out while it was cool.  While I had a little diarrhea and vomiting, I mainly ached all over.  We rolled up the bags and mats and I hiked them back up to the Ranger station while Kay took down the tent.  We packed it up and were once again hiking at 5:45am.  We began a slow, but steady climb out of the canyon.  We stopped often to take pictures, marvel at the incredible views, and catch our breath.  About 11am we met our husbands about 3/4 mile from the top.  They had seen us with their
binoculars and hiked down to meet us.  What a wonderful sight they were!!!  Gary had brought 2 Diet Pepsi’s with him and they were wonderfully received.  We’d both missed Diet Pepsi in the canyon.    We came out of the canyon about noon.  I was feeling better and since we were in the shade about 90% of the time and back at about 6800 feet and it was cooler, Kay was better too.
    All in all, it was a wonderful trip!!!  My only changes would have been to take items that would have allowed us to do both the hike down and up in two days each.  Even though it would have meant carrying larger packs with sleeping mats and bags, and more food, it would have been worth it.  We could have done all of our hiking in the morning, except for the first day, when we reached the campground at 3pm.  Knowing that the heat had such a negative effect, I also would have started earlier that first day and left about 4am.  All this is said of course, with perfect 20/20 hindsight.
    In any case, we made it out together,  have wonderful memories, and Kay was even still speaking to me at the end, despite my suggesting the trip to begin with.  Despite the heat and the flu, she said she enjoyed it, although she told Gary it was his turn next.  I know I did.  What’s next?  Who knows?

    Gary and I stayed at the South Rim of the Canyon until Sunday & had campfires both Fri and Sat evening, as well as Sat morning.  We enjoyed the warmer temps, as it had been really cold on the North Rim.  Gary shared pictures of the 5 elk that had bedded down in our site the day before.  I watched the sunrise over the canyon on Sat morning and we hiked along the rim on Sat and enjoyed looking down at Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River.  We also saw a really good exhibit on the Civilian Conservation Corp. and all the work they’d done at the Grand Canyon.
    Sunday we were on our way by 5:15am,  through Phoenix, and back at RoVer’s Roost by 11:15am.  We parked, turned on the air conditioning as temps are still over 100 in the afternoon, and enjoyed being back in our AZ home!!!  Sandy (my boss & the quilt shop owner) had put a banner up on our shed welcoming us home and was even waiting there to welcome us.  Of course she also wanted to make sure I’d be at work the next week.   So while Gary is relaxing for a couple weeks, I started back to work on Wed and Sat. 
    Gary went through my car and removed nests that had been built there and recharged the battery.  We had some wiring chewed through to one of the headlights and wound up needing to replace the battery, but it’s fine other than that.  Once again, after driving trucks all summer, it’s nice to have a car again.  Yesterday we made a trip to Trader Joe’s and Gary managed to play 18 holes of golf this morning.   I pulled a muscle in my leg Sunday afternoon moving things around in the shed, so haven’t been able to run yet, but life is returning to normal for us.
    A reminder that we’ve cancelled our pocketmail, so the only e-mail address we have is this one:   Our winter address is: 3241 S. Montgomery Road, Casa Grande, AZ 85293.  We also have texting on my phone, 801-455-2101.  We look forward to hearing from you all this winter.
    Dancing on lot #96 in RoVer’s Roost.......................
    Hugs, Katy, Gary, Rusty, and Spicy