Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Grand Canyon

Look Don't Touch

Sunrise at Look Out Point, South Kaibab Trail

Early Morning on the South Kaibab

Casey is getting the hang of the selfie. . . 

Saturday Morning

Looking Down on the footbridge over the Colorado River

Sunday Morning on the Bright Angel Trail

Look How Far We've Come

You Can't Take a Bad Picture Here 

Friday at the Bright Angel Lodge

Scripture at the Bright Angel Studio

Starting in the Dark on Saturday Morning

Sunrise on the South Kaibab Trail

The Glory of the Lord Shines

The Long and Winding Road. . . well. . . trail

Still Feeling Pretty Fresh. . . on Saturday

Tunnel to the Footbridge

On the Footbridge--temperature 108 degrees

We Made it Down--in the Phantom Ranch Mess Hall--electrolytes, then beer. 

Soaking our feet in the Phantom Creek

It Looks Cooler than it Was--Close to the Phantom Ranch Campground

Actual Temp Was 108--but feels like. . . . and looks good in a picture

Starting up the Bright Angel Trail at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning, 85 degrees

A Moment on Sunday

Back at the Top---feeling pretty high
At the bottom, we toasted to Dave Stephens and Chuck Canady--fathers of all hiking expeditions. It was a mountaintop high at the base of a canyon.

We flew into Phoenix on Friday August 25. We met up and got the rental car and drove up to Grand Canyon National Park. We headed on in to the Bright Angel Lodge, checked in and went to check out the gift store and the historic building, designed by female architect Mary Colter. My mom had turned me on to her significance and I was able to read her biography on the plane. In the late 1800's she amazingly went from art teacher to interior designer to architect of countless buildings around the Grand Canyon and the Southwest.

We were picking out postcards and t-shirts for the kids and thinking about getting a beer and dinner. There was a terrace out the back door and folks were eating some ice cream out there.

Turns out the terrace was the precipice of the Grand Canyon. Folks were sitting on the shallow stone wall at the edge eating their cones. Yikes. I guess Mary Colter picked the best location for her hotel and shops. That was our first view of the canyon. The canyon takes up both sides of a giant map I bought and this south rim is only a two-inch by four-inch inset in the map. Crazy, crazy, crazy.

After our mutual internal embarrassment of choosing post-cards and alcohol over the view, we took a walk down to the other Mary Colter buildings along the edge of the canyon. Thank you Lord, that we never came here with little children. It would have been like the north shore of Hawaii surf, where it actually take two parents holding on to one child for any sense of comfort and safety.

I've been to the ocean and I've been to the mountains, but the canyon was a brand-new high for me. Casey invited me because she got spots in the women's dorm at the base of the canyon. They book them 18 months in advance. There was a little voice in my head all summer saying--are you good enough to do this? Are you in shape enough? Will your ankle be healed enough? Why the heck are my knees hurting?  All the little voices.

After dinner we packed our backpacks, filled the camelbacks, and distributed the weight. At the last minute Casey added one more of my giant water bottles. We each had our small packs, the camelback pack underneath. We had our trekking sticks. Phones for cameras. Lunch and trail food. Sunscreen. First aid. Maps. Long sleeve shirts (what was I thinking. . . . ). Sunglasses. One big extra water bottle each beyond the camelbacks. Flip-flops to wear at the bottom. The best flashlights Dennis and Bill could come up with. We turned out the lights and tried to sleep.

We took the 5:00 a.m. shuttle to the South Kaibab Trail head. The gal from Germany next to me had on a down sweater. It was cool, but. . . not that cool. We started down in gentle light. Down would be the key word. It was all down. Knees and toes taking a beating on every step.

The South Kaibab is pretty rustic. No water stops. No little benches. Nothing. Down. Two ancient signs along the way, Lookout Point--where we hit the sunrise, and Skeleton Point--I guess I don't know what that meant--either you can see the skeleton of the trail going down or that's where people's skeletons remain. We kept our skeletons with us and moved on.

We met about ten people all day. And ten mules taking the supplies down to the Phantom Ranch. I stopped and took care of my feet with moleskin. Good choice.

There was a steep learning curve. Climbing up mountains, it gets cooler and cooler. Climbing down canyons it gets hotter and hotter. We were fighting the clock in the form of the sun. I think we finally saw the river at about 10:00. That false sense of almost there. We crossed the suspension footbridge over the Colorado River about 10:30. Now we are really almost there! It was hot and we were down to the last two inches of water in the extra bottle. But we are almost there. Really.

Casey is in great shape. She's always been athletic. She runs in Houston where it's casually 105 degrees. She's biked the MS 150. She's run half marathons.

Sara does yoga, barre class, and walks in Minnesota. I did take a hot yoga class once where it was 105 degrees.

The time between the river and the Phantom Ranch will hitherto be referred to as the "hot time." Casey forbade me to call it anything else, but it felt like a lot of things that might include profanity. In my suburban hot yoga class the little teacher gal in her yoga garb said to release heat with open mouth exhales. So on that last leg of the journey down, that's what I did. And chewed gum behind Casey's back. And rested every ninety seconds. We didn't know that it was 108 degrees.

We reached the Phantom Ranch camp at 11:15 a.m.
Five and three-quarters hours of down.

There were ten woman booked in the cool dark cabin/dorm. Five sets of bunk beds. Casey and I were the first there and picked our bunks. One toilet, one shower stall, one sink. More than enough. The unwritten code seemed to be lights off and quiet voices. All the gals instinctually obeyed as if the quiet voices would keep it cooler. The AC was working it down to about 85. Bless. We showered and drifted away for an hour on our bunks. Then we went back over to the mess hall, sent a couple postcards, which will be delivered by mule and had a Bright Angel Lodge IPA beer. Back to the cabin and another nap.

But Sara, you say, you don't nap. You can't nap. You've never been able to nap. Well folks--I napped. It might have been the heat or the hike or wait for it. . . . NO COFFEE. Yes, there was no coffee at the  South Kaibab Trail Head. People in hell want ice water, that's true--but God Bless the Bright Angel Lodge cook lady who had a big old pot Sunday morning at 4:00 a.m. I only suffered one day. . .

After the second nap a gal told us about a bench out in the middle of the Phantom Creek and we went out there and soaked our feet in the rushing creek for a very long time. The afternoon passed as this. I guess that's all you do when it's 108 degrees. By our dinnertime at 6:30 it was down to 102 in the shade. The cook lady called 48 of us into the mess hall and we had our $22 family style beef stew, salad, cornbread, and chocolate cake. When you're at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you'll be eat'n what's put on your plate, because a mule brought it down.

We sweat through an outdoor ranger program about the California condor bird. The hiker men asked the cute ranger gal several hundred questions about the reproductive habits of the bird, which she was flattered to answer.

Back at the dorm we packed our packs in the dark and went to sleep. I wouldn't have needed my earplugs as the ladies were silent. We were from all countries and of all ages but we were all quiet and exhausted.

At 3:30 a.m. I woke up and put in contacts and silently brushed teeth at the little sink. Sunscreen. A postpartum dose of ibuprofen. We picked up our $22 sack lunches at the mess hall and I slammed a cup of that precious Joe with no half and half and we hit the trail by 4:30. We started up the Bright Angel Trail.

South Kaibab was 7.5 miles down. Bright Angel is 9.5 miles up. And I do mean up. Now the key word is up. I muttered it with an exhale on every 18 inch step.

The first hour was completely dark and we hiked as fast as we could, to beat the sun and the heat. At sunrise a family of deer crossed our trail. They were going straight down the canyon, as opposed to our switchbacks. Amazing. Little baby deer getting their canyon feet.

Casey had a beautiful butterfly land on her boot.

When you are hiking up and up and up, you stop to take a lot of pictures. Yep. Had to stop and really be in the moment and get that shot. I didn't really need 90 seconds to get my heart rate down. . . why bother anyway it was just going right back up with every step.

We saw the sunrise again. The Bright Angel Trail was very different than the South Kaibab. The Bright Angel had a creek and we hiked along that for quite awhile in between up and up. We were delighted to hit the half way point around 9:00. That was good news. From the half way point up the trail was pretty populated with day hikers and there were rest points with water every mile and a half. The trail was full of every nationality. We met folks from the UK, Germany, India, Japan and heard French and Italian. It was a true United Nations. The only "us and them" was between those who were hiking from the bottom and about to die versus those day hike people coming down from the top with their little day hike packs and little day hike water bottles.

At 7.5 hours we were up. Back at the Bright Angel Lodge. Folks eating ice cream again. More us and them. The folks we knew from the bottom up collapsed on benches pouring water on themselves. The tourists (now that you have been to the bottom you are NOT, I repeat, NOT a tourist) taking pictures in their tourist clothes with their postcards and t-shirts. They were clean.

We were slaphappy and high. Standing at the little rock wall looking down again. The difference in the view from Friday afternoon to Sunday was exponential. It was like the difference between flying across the country and actually taking a road trip in your car. Seeing the canyon again after hiking all the way down and all the way back up was a very emotional experience. I can't believe I did it. The scary little voice was an inner shout for joy.

We ditched our gear in the trunk of the hot car and we got a cone, just like the tourists. Almond praline. Then we got in the car and drove back to Phoenix. The temp was 109.

Bill's sister Ann hosted us. She let us bathe our filthy bodies in her clean shower. We threw all the clothes in her clean washing machine. We returned to being tourists and she took us out to a fancy dinner. We were tourists who couldn't walk quite right.

Casey is returning to Houston, where Harvey has decimated her children's school, her courthouse, her friend's homes. Probably her car parked at the airport. Everything. Her own home is still safe and her people, but she couldn't get back to Houston as both airports were under water. She flew to Austin and will drive back to Houston as soon as the roads are passable.

I spent the better part of the next two days getting home and trying not to throw up. Not sure what made me sick--gee I wonder--the temperature, the fatigue, dehydration, or lactic acid in my muscles. I don't really care. It was worth it. I'll be able to walk normally again soon.

Thank you Casey, for inviting me. I love you so dearly. I will never forget this trip. It was amazing in a million ways. We met in first grade and when you moved away in sixth grade we used to listen to the song Babe, by Styx. Babe,  I'm leaving. . .I'll be missing you. I'm still missing you after all these years. 

Thank you Lord, for your creation. Only an artist, scientist, geographer could have made such a place as the Grand Canyon. Thank you for knees and ankles and padded band-aids, for Gatorade and ibuprofen. Thank you for families that taught us how to hike and the value and beauty of nature. Thank you for it all.  Amen. 

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