Grand Canyon 2013

2013/10/13

It's a month now since I last hiked the Grand Canyon and I already miss it. This was the third time I've made the trek and it was yet again different. And yet again completely captivating and monumental. This year was a decidedly different affair - we spent more time at the rim, hiked a different trail, had completely different weather, and different company as well.

Much of the core group was the same. My dear friend Audra I always consider at the heart of the journey. She is the one who made this happen for me the first time and every time since. She definitely takes the lion share of the planning and motivation; I am lucky to have such a great friend. Pam and Shannon were there again. This time Pam brought her daughter Sarah and I brought by bestest littlest sister and another friend Carla joined the mix as well. Jackie agreed to drive us again, which is essential when attempting to hike rim to rim. It was a great group and it was wonderful to have time with friends.

We extended the trip this year to enjoy the canyon more and it was a real treat. We always hike in and out in one day not really because we're motivated, but mostly because we're cheap and it's hard to get reservations to stay at the bottom. The past two years we've only stayed at the rim one night and all the travel to and from Phoenix combined with epic detours like our middle of the night trip the ER in 2011 has given me a strange relationship with the canyon. You get to know it very intimately when trekking through the bowels, but I hadn't spent hardly any time appreciating the more common and majestic rim view.

This year I flew to Phoenix late Wednesday, crashing with Audra for the night. We drove to the North Rim Thursday and had lots of time there to take in the sights. Watching the sunset was something magical for sure. We stayed a bit outside the park in Jacobs Lake where the cafe has the best cookies in all of creation. They ended up serving as a good chunk of my fueling plan for our hike the following day. Perfect! The next day was Friday the 13th, a perfect time for an epic undertaking. We didn't get a very early start, hitting the trail head at 6:30 and that ended up meaning a few hours in the dark on the other end, but considering the balmy weather and pristine trail conditions, that wasn't really much of a tragedy. Friday night we slept at the South Rim and Saturday we shuffled and hobbled and creaked around to enjoy the views of that side of the canyon, driving back in the mid afternoon to Phoenix. I got to see a few more friends for dinner Saturday night and then flew home Sunday after a quick stop by my old church for Sacrament meeting.

So now to the details of the glorious 23.9 miles that made up my Friday... It's hard to know where to start. We had near ideal weather - starting out in the mid to high 40s and ending up with a high at the floor of only 90 or so. I've definitely done cold in the canyon before (see 2012) and that didn't bother me, but I was more than a little concerned about the triple digits that we expected for a September hike. It was such a beautiful day. The only complaint I might have is that the brilliant sunlight all day made for washed out pictures, but that seems a petty complaint. The trails were dry despite a lot of rain the week prior and that was the biggest blessing of the day. I knew we would be getting out in the dark considering this year's hike was longer than the prior years and the memory of those last muddy miles left me with a sick feeling in my stomach. We had also heard about trail closures on the North side due to the recent rains and I was a little nervous. But the trail conditions were pristine the entire trip.

I loved seeing the North Rim. I hadn't been there since I was a kid and it's quite a different landscape than the South. The pine trees and cool air were music to my soul. I started out giddy as always, settling into the walk a few hours in. I felt more restrained about pictures this trip, only ending up with 100 or so on my phone. But apparently those in my party did not feel the same because we really did end up with something like 2,000 photos (now whittled down some) by the end of the trip. It's hard for me to not want to stop at every bend and try to capture the beauty with a picture, but I've also learned that it's simply not possible. I'm more comfortable now letting that fact be and instead just letting the emotion of the vistas wash over me. Can't harness it in a photograph.

One of the downsides to being a veteran of the Grand Canyon is that I seem to take my preparation less seriously every time I do this. I haven't been to yoga as much as I should lately and my running has been a little lack luster as well. I did nothing other than two or three jaunts through the relative flat of Barton Creek to prepare myself. By the time I got to Phoenix I was a little worried that I was being stupid about the whole thing since this route had more miles and more elevation to conquer than the South Kaibab to Bright Angel that we had done the two prior trips. But truth be told, I find that the longer but more gradual descent of North Kaibab left me feeling better. I remember my calves being balls of steel and screaming in pain by the time I hit the flat coming down from South Kaibab, but I felt great the whole day this year. There was an hour or so just after we crossed the Colorado that I experienced a terrible shooting pain radiating from just outside and below my left knee up into my hip. Wincing with every step I had some serious dark thoughts about what the next several hours were going to be. But I was able to stretch out the offending muscles and I felt great by the time we were really making the climb out. The day was long no doubt, but we take things slow enough that I never felt winded or even really tired except maybe the last dark hour on our way out.

I had an hour or so hiking solo on the second half of our day and it ended up being a real treat. This has been a big year for me finding happy inside myself and I took the opportunity to walk in a meditative prayer of gratitude. I am so immensely grateful for the ability to go to amazing places and have such great experiences. Our world, both natural and civilized is a great source of joy for me and I never feel it more acutely than in times like these.

The entire hike took me and Xan about 14 hours. Indian Gardens is the last big rest and I've found that this is the point when people get serious and naturally take whatever pace is necessary for them to get out. The mood shifts and work really begins. Those last 4.5 miles are crucible for sure. I had intended on staying with the group, but Xan and I found it simply necessary to keep moving even though our pace was quite a clip ahead of the others. It got dark well before we reached the top and the twilight hours were quiet and focused. The huge silver lining to hiking out in the dark was the opportunity to stop every so often, turn off our head lamps, and let the magnificence of the stars wash over us. Words cannot describe how amazing they were. It was a lovely warm and clear night and it was a real treat to be able to see the lodge of the North Rim lit up and twinkling at us from across the monumental space of the canyon. When we hit the top we didn't know where to find Jackie or how far behind us the others were so we simply sad down in the middle of the sidewalk and crashed. What a day. What a glorious and magnificent day.

Of course, I am already planning my next return trip. The magnificence of the stars in the dark of the canyon has got me itching for spending the night at the bottom, so I'm trying to find a way to make that work. Whatever shape it takes, there will no doubt be another trip next year. I am a full blown addict at this point and I'm pretty comfortable with the pull to get back always at the back of my mind.






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