Grand Canyon 2012

2012/04/22

Does twice make me an addict yet? Because I'm ready to go back again already. There is something so magical about the Grand Canyon. This year's hike was markedly different from last year. Better in some ways, more challenging in others. First of all, I am just immensely glad I got to hike the canyon this year. There were a lot of roadblocks to this year's trip but it all came together and I am so grateful for the opportunity. Grateful for friends that rally to commit and support. Grateful for a body that is whole and healthy to be able to complete the hike. Grateful for a world so immensely full of God's spectacular beauty. I am sad that my sister and other friends weren't able to make it this year, but I guarantee there will be a next time.

We had wanted to hike from the North rim to the South this year but our trip was tied to April and the North rim wasn't open yet. Considering the weather we ended up with I'm glad we didn't try to press it. Around 10 days out when I started to watch the weather in earnest we were planning on 70s on the South rim which  means temps in the 90s at the bottom. A warm day for sure and not entirely enticing but doable. Well, that plan got chucked as soon as a surprise spring snow storm entered into the forecast. We drove up Friday night knowing that snow was likely and not entirely sure what that would mean for the trail. We bought crampons that night just to be on the safe side but went to bed with the ground clear, hoping they would just be for "insurance". Not so. We woke up to biting cold, wind, and lots and 2-4 inches of snow. The desert rats in the group were a little panicked but I was too excited about it to be worried - snow I can handle. We arrived at the South Kaibab trail head around 6:30 am. It was cold, but at around 28 degrees it really wasn't any worse than last year. Other than the wind. Stupid, stupid wind. A few of us had our Camelbaks freeze up, and there were some cold toes and fingers, but otherwise we all felt fine. Our biggest concern of course was staying dry knowing it would be a long cold day and keeping upright on the trail. The crampons worked great when they would stay put but it seemed that everyone's shoes other than mine weren't shaped to work well with them and they kept slipping off. (Side note here on the naming of these particular items. Surely, surely a woman is not responsible for it. We had more than one slip of the tongue and subsequent chuckle about it.) The first couple of hours were slooooow going. The first half an hour was novel and exciting, but the next few hours were a little demoralizing. We were quiet on the trail, just watching our feet and working for some forward progress. If we didn't have to keep stopping to adjust the stupid crampons it really wouldn't have been that bad. The trail last year with ice was actually more treacherous. The snow was gorgeous and it was really cool to see the canyon in such a different state, but I did feel bad for the two newbies in the group since the visibility was absolutely zero until we got below the cloud line. Seems a shame to come all the way to hike the canyon and not actually see it.

After we dropped enough for the snow to turn to drizzle the trail cleared up and the sun even peeked out off and on throughout the rest of the day. The rain was never a downpour, just came and went and we were all dressed well enough to keep dry and comfortable. We enjoyed the rest of the way down and the group spirit picked up now that we didn't have to focus so much on our feet. We meandered through Phantom Ranch and rested up a bit before heading back up. I was really worried about the way out. Last year the last few miles were sloppy with ice and mud to the point of danger and I was expecting more of the same from the reports we were getting from folks headed down Bright Angel. We had lost so much time with our slow decent and we were determined to not be chasing the dark like we did last year. So there was a little trepidation to get up and out but none of it was as bad as I was thinking. The snow started up again as we got closer to the top but the trail conditions weren't awful. Muddy and sloppy yes, but not as bad as last year and we had enough daylight to make it just fine. We took just over 12 hours compared with last year's 11, which all ends up fine by me. I am not worried about hurrying out of one of my favorite places on the planet.

I hadn't spent time on the stair machine to prep for this year's hike like I did last year, but I still have a strong yoga practice and am still running slowly but consistently. I was a little worried about not prepping further but my body felt even better this year than last. My calves were tired by the time we hit bottom, but not screaming at all. The way up was slow enough that it was comfortable going. No blisters to report and I was walking normally by late Tuesday. I was incredibly thirsty from the climate change and drank a ridiculous amount of water, perhaps that contributed to my happy muscles. I drank at least 24 oz before we even started and drained my 80 oz Camelbak both on the way down and the way up. The most physically taxing part of the day for me was the long drive back to Phoenix though yet more Northern Arizona snow. I was immensely tired and drained but couldn't sleep with the bad road conditions looming in front of us. We didn't get to bed until 1:30 and that made for a pretty long day. My recovery day Sunday was relaxing and would have been pretty awesome if it wasn't for a killer headache that woke me up way too early and spent all freaking day with me. Monday I was back at work and almost walking normally, just had to keep from sitting too long or my calves would cramp up. All a small price to pay.

Our group this year was wonderful. Audra and Pam were there from last year, such amazing women they are. Audra's sister Chrissy came in from St. Louis to hike with us and also our old friend Shannon who now lives in Tucson. And of course Jackie who didn't hike but volunteered to be our designated driver. It was great to spend time with each and every one of them. I threw out the word "epic" at the beginning of our trip and it ended up being the perfect descriptor for an amazing day.

I'm trying out Google web albums for my photos this year, you can find them here but below are some highlights.

Starting out with big smiles for the snow

 Shannon excited about the "big view" at Ooh Ahh point

The sun came out and we were a little euphoric

Chrissy doing her best Vanna with the river

Audra and Chrissy on the first bridge. Reaching that landmark is always a happy moment.

I was in a very silly mood all day and took far, far too many goofy posed pictures. Audra catching a candid of me over her shoulder ended up being much more flattering.

I love the exclusive feel of being at the bottom of the canyon and the camaraderie with fellow hikers. Here's Pam adding to a cairn, makes me feel at one with the other's who travel this way.

Almost to Indian Gardens. Note to self: buy a more flattering sports bra.

Enjoying a short break and the view 

Audra at the keyhole. Another landmark that is good for morale as it signals we are getting close.

And here we are at the top. A very, very satisfying moment.

Can't wait to go again!

2 comments:

Jackijo said...

I have forgotten the cold already (and how worried I was about you girls) and just remember the beauty! What a wonderful experience.

Denise said...

Looks like a fabulous trip! You ladies are inspiring! Thanks for letting us a have a peek into the fun!

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