If you would have told me in the beginning of 2012 that I was going to be hiking in the Grand Canyon this year, I would say that it was unlikely. If you would have told me that I would hike in the Canyon twice this year, I would say that you were crazy. Yet there we were in the heat of June hiking the 15 miles total down to Phantom Ranch and back on the South Kaibab Trail. There I was again on the second Saturday in October standing at the North Kaibab trailhead in the cool crisp predawn light on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, flanked by two comrades and preparing to traverse the 26 miles to the south rim of the canyon. We never know what life is going to bring us. It is wondrous journey. Unlike the training for the June hike which was done with the group that we were hiking with, I did all the training for the Rim to Rim hike solo. I found the hiking alone very meditative and grounding. It was just as grueling though, and the weeks before the canyon hike took me to Tom’s Thumb, Mount Wrightson, Thompson Peak, Phoenix Mountain Preserve, Sunrise, and more. I put in long hours and many miles in preparation. It all led me to that morning at the North Kaibab trailhead. I am not really sure how we arrived at the decision to hike Rim to Rim. I think it went like this, but I could be mistaken. Memory is like that, inaccurate. Scott C. from my Lifetime class saw my post on hiking the Canyon in June and mentioned that we should go for a hike together sometime. Somewhere, Thompson Peak came up as a hike. Later in another class, Mike B. overheard us talking hiking and suggested Mt. Humphries, the tallest peak in AZ. He was now “in” as well. I am not quite sure how we got from Mt. Humphries to Rim to Rim on the Grand Canyon, but before I knew it we were going from south to north rim. I mentioned that I would need time to train, so we set an arbitrary time sometime in October. I informed my hiking friends that I was not a fast hiker. They said that they were ok with that. A little about my hiking companions. Scott C. is a triathelete and in excellent cardio and physical condition. Mike B. is an avid hiker and extreme sportsman also in top condition. I am a yoga guy who hikes… Anyway, we set the date to hike at Saturday, October 13th. This is the last weekend that services are open on the north rim of the Canyon. Scott and Mike set out about dealing with all the logistics that are required to facilitate a hike like this. There were cabins and rooms to be booked, dinner reservations to be made. Etc. A large obstacle was how to get back to our vehicle on the other rim of the canyon after we crossed it. Scott suggested that we just turn around and go back hiking rim to rim to rim. Mike seemed ok with this, but I had serious concerns about my feet being ok for a hike of over 50 miles. I frequently get heel blisters on long hikes, and nothing would be more painful than hiking 26 miles back on blistered feet. Mike presented a solution. He said that his girlfriend Lori (sp) would hike the other way across the canyon, and then there would be cars on each side. I was so impressed. I went home and asked my wife Michelle where I could find a girlfriend who would just up and hike across the Grand Canyon on short notice. Not a good idea. She reminded me that she was with me when we hiked to Phantom Ranch and back in the June heat. I have to learn to check my internal dialogue more often. As it turns out, Lori and here friend Cecilia who accompanied her are avid, and very experienced hikers. With all the logistics in place, and training done, we three, Scott, Mike and I set out on Friday afternoon, October 12th. I got teachers to cover my Saturday and Sunday classes,
and following my 10:45am Lifetime class, we left on our adventure. We stopped for lunch, then to Scotts house to drop off our cars. We packed all our gear in Scotts’ Santa fe and then northward we headed. It was not long before snacks started appearing from everywhere. Pretzels, nuts, bars, seaweed, yes seaweed, drinks, etc. mysteriously kept appearing. I was out of the loop on the snack thing and after remarking that I was “snackless”, it stuck, and for the rest of the trip up I was called “snackless”.
It was decided that we would hike the north rim to south rim because Lori was not getting off work until later and the north rim is about a 6 hr drive and the south rim a 4 hr. drive. She would get more sleep driving to the south rim. I was happy about this because the north rim is a more challenging hike up. It boasts an addition 1000 ft. vertical when compared to the south rim. I have been to the south rim of the canyon many times, but had never been to the north rim. The drive was long and Scott drove the whole thing. Appreciated that. As we neared the north rim and climbed in elevation the sun set. The
temperature dropped dramatically as our elevation increased. We encountered snow flurries as we rose into the pines and aspens. It was dark and we proceeded cautiously through snow and fog. We arrived safely, parked the car, and getting out, it was cold. I dislike the cold. We checked into our cabin, cute but small, moved our gear to the cabin, and went to the Lodge where we had a dinner reservation. Dinner was tasty and satisfying. We headed to the cabin for sleep. We planned a predawn start to our hike. Excitement and anxiousness kept us from sleeping well, but we all arose, consumed some oatmeal and prepared for our hike. Mike and Scott were laughing at the amount of
clothing, power bars (12) and electrolyle Gu packs (10) that I was bringing. I lightened my load and the amount of clothing that I was wearing and they still referred to me as the “staypuff marshmallow” guy. With our diversion to Ribbon Falls, we estimated that our distance of hike would be approximately 27miles. I am usually an average of 2 miles per hour hiker. I was anticipating 12 hours of hiking. Scott and Mike were anticipating an 8 hr hike. (RIGHHHHHT). So, here we are back at the trailhead of the North Kaibab trail. We took a few pictures in the foggy predawn light, and at 6:20am, off we went down the trail with like 50 other people. The trail was very crowded. We had a very fast downhill pace going out, and passed quite a few of them. We lost Mike. He had forgotten his hiking poles at the trailhead and gone back for them. Scott and Mike hiked with poles. I don’t use them. We
kept going, knowing that Mike is a ’hiking machine” and could have caught up with us anytime he wanted to. We made a few bathroom stop for Scott, and
then a longer stop at Roaring Springs to shed clothing and to eat. Mike left his sunglasses here. Gone. Never to be seen again. The three of us headed for Ribbon Falls, our next stop. Ribbon Falls was enough to make the whole trip worth while for me. It was amazing. I think everyone should see it live and in person. Pictures do not do it justice. We spent about a half hour here doing yoga poses, taking pictures and making friends. Loved it.
We headed back to the trail and towards Phantom Ranch. The trail follows Bright Angel Creek. The hike passes through some deep cuts in the canyon with towering walls and deep ravines. Photography was challenging due to the play of light and shadows on the canyon walls. We passed many riparian area and came upon some deer feeding.
The trail remained crowded, and numerous runners passed us. Yes, there is a whole subculture of super fit humans who finds it necessary to run the Grand Canyon. There were plenty of “posers”, but there were also some “serious” athletes. We had 3 guys with nothing but running shorts, shirts and a water bottle each pass us running down the north rim. We passed them about 9 hrs later going the other way. They were running down the south rim as we were hiking up. (I didn’t see them even breathing hard.) AWESOME….
We encountered Lori and Cecilia on the trail as we caught up with Mike. They were in good spirits, and after a short chat, we headed our separate ways. We arrived at Phantom Ranch at noon. We had crossed the nineteen mile in a little under 6 hrs including the half hour we spent at the falls. A very respectable pace. It was crowded down at the ranch. We waited in a line of about 12 people for post cards and postage, ice and lemonade. We
sat outside in the beautiful, sunny, 80 degree weather with our shoes and socks off, airing out our feet. I needed some mole skin on my right heel where I felt a “hot spot”, but other than that I felt great. We ate ( I had PB&J), drank our lemonade, and loaded up on electrolytes. We wrote our post cards, which are cool because they say on them: “Mailed By Mule At Phantom Ranch” “The Bottom Of The Grand Canyon”. We prepped for our hike up the south rim. It is about an 8 mile hike, but it is all uphill and there is no water source until the top. It was one o’clock when we topped off our Camelbaks with water and headed off. Uphill is my weakness in hiking, and although I kept up all the way down to Phantom Ranch, Mike quickly out hiked me. Scott stayed with me and we chatted philosophy and religion and yoga and life. I am a slow methodical uphill hiker. After a while, Mike and Scott would hike ahead and then wait for me. Despite my pace, we made good time, and were out of the canyon on the south rim at 4:45pm. We had hiked it in under 11 hours, even with the stops at the falls and Phantom Ranch. I was pleased with our time.
We caught a tram to the parking lot where Cecelia’s car was parked and headed off to El Tovar where we were spending the night. We encountered Elk in front of El Tovar, and plenty of tourists taking pictures of them. We checked in, got a shower, phoned home to let them know we survived and headed to the bar to wait for the time of our dinner reservation. We reminisced over the hike, and enjoyed the camaraderie of friends that had accomplished something together. We slept pretty well that night and arose to a hearty, and expensive breakfast before heading back to the valley. We were considering meeting Lori and Cecelia in Flagstaff to switch cars and maybe do some post hiking yoga, but that did not “pan out”. My body felt great the day after the hike, but my hips were really sore and tight. Weird, I
know. We hit a major traffic jam just outside of Black Canyon City, so decided to grab lunch at the Café there and watch a little football while the traffic cleared. We arrived back at Scott’s house and waited for the girls to get back with our gear. We chatted and watched some football and then the girls arrived. We chatted some more and then everyone was off on their way home. My family was happy to see me safely home and my daughter, Gillian made me a large vegan cookie that said: “Good Job Daddy”. Those are the little things that make it all worth while…….
Maybe next year we go rim to rim to rim… or Mount Everest… You never know what life will bring you…
Finally, I am grateful to my hiking partners Scott and Mike. They worked hard to make this trip happen. I appreciate their humor and stories. I am thankful for their experience, guidance, and inspiration. Mostly, I am grateful for their compassion, patience, and friendship.