About nine years ago, I hiked the Grand Canyon for the first time. For that trip, my mom and I went down the South Rim, camped at the bottom, hiked halfway back up the South Rim, camped again, and finally hiked out. We did a total of about 19 miles in three days.
A few months ago, I was invited to hike with some ladies I didn’t really know and we were going to do rim-to-rim in two days. That’s a total of more like 25 miles.
Now, doing anything with people I don’t know is SUPER stressful for me, but even more-so when it’s a physical activity. You see, if you compare me to most normal people, I’m really athletic, but I’ve also been around long enough to totally be schooled by people you’d never think have it in them. Also, having done the canyon before, I knew I could do the hike without worrying too much… so I didn’t train.
About two weeks before the hike, Amy the dentist, who had vouched for me with her friends and gotten me invited on the hike, started to worry. She did a couple of hikes that kicked her butt a little, and panicked about my lack of preparation, because she figured that if she’d been training and things were really difficult for her, then someone who didn’t train would have tons more trouble.
That’s not a horrible way to think about it, but her panic was unwarranted.
Still, her panic caused me to panic a little.
I knew that the rest of the group had done a bunch of hikes to prepare (about one a week for the past few months), and I started to wonder if I wasn’t going to be the weakest link.
Then we got in the canyon.
And I totally wasn’t the weakest link.
And it was a lovely hike.
If any of you are thinking about doing the canyon, I can’t stress enough that you should hike down the North Rim (and maybe stay at Phantom Ranch). The North Rim is SO much more beautiful than the South. It starts at a little higher elevation, and the trail is less touristy since most people only see the South Rim. Also, there’s a GORGEOUS waterfall about seven miles in. It’s called Ribbon Falls. (I’ll show you pictures in a later post). To get to the falls, you have to hike a little bit more than the 14.6 miles the trail already covers, but it’s definitely worth it. Also, once you get to the falls, you should go inside the cave. I know it’s scary, but I promise it’s safe. Three of us stood inside the cave at one time, and it was delightful.
Also, hiking from the North Rim, you drop into the canyon sooner and spend a fantastic time hiking along the canyon bottom, next to Bright Angel Creek, and it’s beautiful.
Phantom Ranch… also totally worth it.
If you stay at Phantom Ranch, you can cut the weight in your pack by an impressive amount. You can reserve meals there, and we had a steak dinner and a breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc… And we didn’t have to carry a tent or sleeping gear.
Hiking out went about as well as I expected. I tend to be pretty slow when I’m going uphill, and Bright Angel Trail is a little over nine miles, all uphill. Still, I was out in five and a half hours, and I’m not all that sore today. 🙂 A little yoga tonight should loosen things up nicely and all will be well.
However, amidst all of the grandeur, challenge, and joy, I also found some tragedy.
As I was hiking the last mile and a half out, I passed by an older lady who was really struggling. I was struggling too, and didn’t feel like I could stop too long to help, but she was obviously one of those people who started at the top that morning and meandered down a bit farther than she should have, so I paused long enough to make sure she had fluids and took a break, then I continued on, knowing that if she got into any real trouble, there’d be other people along the trail to help her out.
About five or ten minutes after I made it out of the canyon, I was sitting at the top, changing shoes and waiting for the other two girls in our group, who were about an hour behind me, and a helicopter flew over and headed into the canyon. I overheard some guys I’d been hiking with on-and-off say that their buddy had just texted to tell them that an elderly man he’d been hiking with had a heart attack.
A few minutes after that, the lady I’d passed on the trail made it out of the canyon and hurried over, immediately asking about the helicopter. She was worried about her husband because she had started out hiking with him, but had turned back thinking she wouldn’t be able to make it out if she kept going, and her husband continued on. He went out to a spot called Plateau Point, which is three miles, round-trip, in addition to the 4.5 miles he had to go down to get to the trail… so he had something like 12 miles of total hiking to go there and back, and there’s very little shade for a good part of it. His wife also mentioned that he had stints put in a few years back. 😦
His wife really didn’t know what to do, and she didn’t know if it was him or not, so I rushed her up to the lodge and got on the phone with the park service people who didn’t want to give me any info… until they found out her name. They said they’d send a ranger out to talk with her, and she and I should just wait. I prayed with her and held her hand, and when the ranger got there, he confirmed that it was her husband. I walked her out to the ranger’s car, and he drove off with her.
And I couldn’t help but cry.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt empathy like that before, because I just couldn’t hold back the tears. All she could talk about while we were waiting was how they’d driven out from Tennessee and she wouldn’t even be able to drive back without him, because she didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. She said he’d wanted this to be his last hike into the canyon, because he knew he didn’t have many more hikes left in him.
And it was so horrible to think that a vacation altered the course of their lives, and people nearby kept on taking pictures and eating ice cream, but Velma might have to drive home in a car she couldn’t drive, without the man she loved.
*Update: Her husband died. 😦 Here’s the link to a short article about it.