Day 7 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust”

March 26th, 2008

*Yawn* What a night! Between hearing critters outside our tent and the wind blowing…where is my comfy bed? I miss it!

We started hiking right at 8am from Horn Creek so we could get to Indian Gardens in good time. My feet were KILLING me, but I knew I had to wrap them up and be strong. It was going to be a long day hiking. We planned on getting to the top of the canyon before dark.

My husband didn’t tell me, but he had taken some of my items out of my pack and added them to his when I was “visiting nature”. He knew my feet were hurting and wanted to make my load easier. We were making good time as we headed to Indian Gardens until my husband started to feel weak. He was getting over-exerted. He hadn’t eaten breakfast and was pushing his body too hard. We stopped on the trail for a break and to energize. This place sure makes you realize how fragile you can be. Not drinking enough water, not eating enough calories, blisters, sprains, falls….staying focused is absolutely necessary for survival.

The Tonto trail to Indian Gardens was beautiful. I loved seeing all native cacti (barrel, flat paddle, tubular, etc.). Thankfully, this part of the trail was more flat (and not as many sheer cliffs). As this canyon is so large, hikers don’t usually run into many folks. We did cross paths with a man and his daughter. They were on a 12 mile hike and hadn’t taken a picture of themselves since they started their hike. We took their picture for them, and kept on our path.

The scenery started to change the closer we got to Indian Gardens. We started seeing less scrub brush, and started to see trees. There were less boulders and more fine dirt/sand. We had finally made it to Indian Gardens and WATER. There was a gorgeous spring running through with amenities that we hadn’t had in days (port-a-potty, benches, trees offering shade, and fellow hikers to chat with).

Indian Garden is at the end of the Bright Angel Trail. This is the 5 mile trail that leads to the top of the canyon. We sat at Indian Gardens and chatted with several hikers. One gentleman was on his way to meet up with friends so they could raft 180 miles down the Colorado River. Amazing! When my husband told him what we had done over the last few days, he said: “Wilderness rafting is a challenge, but you people that carry everything you need on your back and hike for miles & miles are HARD CORE”. That made us feel good to hear.

We mentioned to other hikers that we had come down the Hermit Rest Trail and some were impressed. Apparently, it is one of the toughest trails in the canyon. I felt better after their praise. I had been feeling like a scaredy cat on some of those sheer cliffs. When you walk on a “non-maintained trail”, be prepared for anything.

We filled up our water packs and headed up the 5 mile trail of Bright Angel (going from 3,000 to 6,700 feet up). Thank goodness for hiking poles! We encountered several mule trains up the trail. The ranglers told us that there was ice about 1.5 miles from the top, but that we should be fine with our poles. I was nervous about the ice, but was optimistic.

Our son quickly got tired of the steep climb, so we took frequent rests. Our legs were screaming from the climb and our lungs were burning from the elevation change.

We stopped at 1.5 Mile House (rest stop 1.5 down from the top of the rim) so my guys could go to the bathroom. About 30 minutes after 1.5 Mile House, we passed a rangerBright Angel helicopter going down the trail. She asked if we knew anything about the man that had collapsed at 1.5 Mile House. We hadn’t heard anything about him, and told her as much. She said that an older man had collapsed and they were doing CPR on him. A few minutes later, we saw a rescue helicopter land at 1.5 Mile House. Things did not look good for the older hiker. I said a prayer for the man, and kept hiking up.

The trail started to get icy right after seeing the ranger. We had heard that there were patches of ice just below the rim. In the shady areas, the ice had not melted completely. In some places, the ice was 1″-12″ thick. This made hiking “very challenging” as you were watching your footing on the sheer cliffs and trying not to slip and fall over the side. The ranger had told us that we didn’t need clamp-ons. I started to wish that I had them. Even with our hiking poles for additional balance, it was VERY scary going around corners.

Up Bright Angel There was one switchback corner where I chose the wrong way to step. My husband and son were ahead of me and had already gone around the corner. I started to slip and happened to look to the side. I saw a very steep cliff that I was sliding towards. I stuck in my pole and completely panicked. I was completely frozen and started to hyperventilate. My husband and son kept telling me to push myself forward with my poles, but I was so scared that I couldn’t move. Thankfully, I married a very understanding (chivalrous, patient) man. He came down to me, had me hold onto his backpack, and pulled me up the hill. I don’t think I could have moved without his help. I was probably the most scared I have EVER been in my life.

As we approached the top of the rim (I think I heard angels singing about that time), we saw a gorgeous site – a California Condor. This large, scavenging bird was perched on a far out ledge about 50 meters from the trail. We then noticed a COMPLETE MORON woman tourist climb out onto the same ledge and grab a hold of a pine tree branch. She swung out on the branch like a monkey. Her feet were dangling over the canyon!!!! She was laughing and wanted her friends to take a picture of her. I couldn’t look. I just knew she was going to fall to her death. Such an idiot!

The last few switchbacks of the trail were muddy and covered in mule droppings. I didn’t care as long as the trail wasn’t icy. I could deal with mud any day. Mud washes away. Icy paths can cause slipping to your death. Mud is nice. Death doesn’t wash away.

After many shaky steps, beautiful vistas, breathtaking valleys, refreshing drinks from natural springs, and nights slept on rocky terrain – we had made it to the top of the Grand Canyon. We were so proud of ourselves. I personally felt that this hike was harder than any half or full marathon I had ever run. A marathon race doesn’t try to kill you with dehydration or slippery slopes. There are no cheering bystanders offering energy drinks and motivation at the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon gave us a glimpse of her majesty and unforgiving harshness. We saw: lizards, deer, rattlesnakes, mules, mice, ravens, condor, eagles, and various birds and insects. We came away with a: hurt knee, twisted ankle, many bruises/scrapes, blisters, a lost toe nail, and sunburn. We took over 400 pictures, and left only our footprints. Although it was the scariest vacation of my life, I don’t regret doing it. How many people can say they have experienced such a trip in their life? We pushed our bodies, our minds, and our family bonds to the limit. I think if we can make it through such an adventure, we can make it through anything.

We dedicated our trip to Uncle Roy and Grandpa Del. They both left this world too early. They would have enjoyed the trip. We are sorry they couldn’t go with us in body, but they were with us in spirit.

We also say a solemn prayer for the 72 yr. old man at 1.5 Mile House. Sadly, he passed away. The canyon rescue team were just heading down to retrieve the body when we reached the rim top.. Seeing the rescuers was a reminder that the Grand Canyon may be a beautiful national park, but it is also unforgiving. One false move, and you could perish. I am so glad that we were allowed to experience it’s wonder and can live to tell about it.

After having a picture taken at the top of Bright Angel Trail (thank you random lady tourist), we walked over to the Back Country office. My husband told the ranger about his injury and offered our 2 remaining camping nights to another hiking group. As the park only allows so many hiking permits, the ranger was sure that someone could use the 2 nights.

We piled our packs, and stinky/sweaty bodies into my car and headed to Flagstaff, AZ for the night. The drive was gorgeous through the pine & aspen forests just outside of Snow Bend on Hwy 180. Seeing the forests blanketed in snow made my husband and I want to build a log cabin and retire right there. It was a serene sight to behold.

We got to our hotel 11 hours after we had started our day at Horn Creek. Our hot showers NEVER felt so good. A soft, clean bed was like getting Christmas early. We ordered pizza (how many calories had we just burned over the last few days?) and collapsed.

My feet took quite a beating. My husband said that I went through almost all layers of skin on my heel. In his words: “I have never seen a blister that bad.” As he was an EMT once, I guess I should be proud, huh? My big toe is another problem. I foresee a doctor visit in the future. I think I have a pretty bad infection this time. Stupid blisters. Top of Grand Canyon YEAH

One Response to “Day 7 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust””

  1. Gary Says:

    Thank you for publishing your adventures. My wife would love to do hikes like these but alas work restrictions and a couple of bad ankles for me trump that.

    I would also like to congratulate your husband on understanding the key ingredient to a successful marriage.

    Happy Wife, Happy Life!

    Keep up the informational posts!

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