Grand Canyon Leftovers

Yes, leftovers. These things I’ve written about my adventure hiking in the Grand Canyon have probably not taken you more than 2 or 3 minutes to read, on any given day.  When you consider that the whole experience was six days in the happening, you know there were lots of things I did not mention, yet.

There are some significant things I want to record for my own sake, and maybe for yours, dear readers.

I want to remember:

  • The El Tovar Hotel. Specifically, the ice cream shop and the booth where my brother sat as a teen and was encouraged to apply for summer work at the Canyon. He did, and that started his GC experiences and led to mine. Beautiful hotel with such a history.
  • Our knowledgeable, personable female guide, Nina. Her German heritage came out in her motherly care of us, her enthusiasm for beer, and her down to earth “so who needs a swim suit to go swimming” philosophy.
  • That it’s very handy to have an empty plastic Mayonnaise jar in the tent with you at night, ladies. Thank you again Nina.
  • How big, beautiful and dangerous the Canyon is.
  • That people are built to walk up easier (and longer) than to walk down.
  • That trekking poles are lifesavers when you are tired. Four points of balance are so much better than two.
  • That I can live through pain, and that pain’s memory fades (as in childbirth and hiking the South Kaibab)
  • That with enough rain, the desert can look so green and full of flowers.
  • That even in a place stamped with billions of years of time, the fact that I can see it, marvel at it, and wonder about it, means I am uniquely created to enjoy it in my brief span of time. Time is not the only measure of significance.
  • That I am truly blessed to not be living like I’m camping all the time, but that I get to camp out when I want to.
  • That you can get to know complete strangers pretty easily when you camp and hike with them, and most serious hikers are nice people. I enjoyed getting to know you Michael, Marlene, Steven, Mike, Bob and Kim.
El Tovar main lobby, from second floor balcony
El Tovar, second floor lobby near guest rooms

Coming Out

Do you see how far away that rim looks? How do I keep from thinking about that?

I kept looking up at what is called the Redwall, a formidable layer of red stained limestone above me. I could see no path taking me up beyond it and it was towering. After five hours of upward travel, the Redwall seemed like a dead end. The only thing I could think was that if I didn’t stop, if I just kept going, I would eventually get to the top. The mental challenge was every bit as big as the physical. I found myself praying frequently that God would strengthen me to keep moving and I warned him that I would someday ask him to explain this canyon to me. This beautiful, challenging, and mystifying place…

When I looked back over the distance I had already traveled I was aware that I had already come far. But most of my attention was focused on the ground where my next footfall would land. The second half of the Bright Angel Trail, right before the South Rim was a real struggle.

We had started that morning around 6, with cool weather and a possibility of rain. The Silver Bridge took us from the campground to the south side of the river. The trail stayed along the river for a while before heading out of the inner gorge on what the guides called “Devil’s Corkscrew”. It wasn’t as steep or difficult as I had expected and all of our crew made really good time. Again the scenery was powerful with frequent views of the trail below and above us, so three dimensional. Voices carry in the canyon and we could hear other hikers even when they were far away, like in an echo chamber.

Indian Gardens – trees, water, resting places

We reached Indian Gardens around 10 am a little ahead of schedule, and rested. What a beautiful place! Large cottonwood trees thrive around the creek, and green plants were plentiful. I can see why the Indian tribes chose to spend time there in the past. I could have spent more time there but we were urged on – the guides knew there were still 4.5 miles to go, some of it would be in the sun, and some of our group had expended most of their energy and strength.

Our group had spread out by this time and I lost track of my brother and his wife. I had seen them ahead of me and I didn’t want to fall too far behind them. I passed up the next stop at Three Mile because I would have had to come down a hill from the restroom and downhill was still too painful to choose unnecessarily. I skipped the stop at Mile and a Half because of the vicious acting squirrels trying to get people to share their snacks. I had heard squirrels were the most dangerous animals in the canyon and I found that believable. I wasn’t going fast at all – I felt like the only way to go slower would have been to stop. It’s possible I looked pretty wasted because lots of people asked me how far I’d come and tried to cheer me up.

I walked out of the canyon at 12:50 pm. I never did catch up with my family, and I found out it was because they were behind me, not ahead. Hmmm….

The member of our group who had trouble and the guide who stayed with him made it out two hours later. As we collected and went to find food we compared our experiences. My sister-in-law and I both were avoiding painful downward grades and well, we walked funny. We were sore. Both my knees hurt – I had actually taken the brace off the right one and put it on the left. I found out that if I kept walking even though I hurt, pretty soon that hurt would diminish and something else would hurt more. That was one of my more interesting observations about pain.

It was wonderful to know that I could stop walking, and that most of the places I would want to walk were relatively flat. I felt relieved of responsibility that had been impressed upon me numerous times, in books, in words, and on signs – the warning “to go into the canyon is an option, to come out is not”. I had gotten myself in, and with God’s help I was now out.

We Take a Rest Day

Phantom Ranch canteen, a good place to rest

As I said in the previous post, I did sleep, but the sore knee began to stiffen and hurt. The sore toe also began to swell and hurt. I could feel it all every time I tried to reposition myself in my sleeping bag. These pains are common reactions to this hike to the river, which is why there is a planned rest day, so called, which oddly consists of more hiking in the gorge. That little bit of less strenuous movement is supposed to keep muscles loose and functioning. We had breakfast, grabbed our water bottles and headed up Bright Angel Creek.

They aren’t pretty. They didn’t feel good either.

These feet did not fit into the hiking boots too well, but my camp shoes were wearable.  The pace was relaxed and the terrain basically flat, leaving me lots of time to snap photos and look around. We were travelling a beautiful gorge – I think the guide called it “the box” because of the steep walls on either side.

Testing the depth and strength of the current.

The trail went fairly gradually for a couple miles on the right side of Bright Angel Creek, and then we saw another gorge on the left side with its own smaller creek. The plan was to cross Bright Angel and explore the intersecting gorge and Phantom Creek. It promised a waterfall and swimming hole. However, the Bright Angel was running so swiftly that none of us liked the idea of trying to cross it.  Our guides looked for a place to cross but decided it was too risky. We might not have drowned, but could have gotten banged around on the rocks. (And the water was FREEZING!)

Granite, sandstone, schist, river rock, cactus… textures of the canyon

I always notice texture in nature, and there was plenty of it to notice. I took pictures of every interesting rock and plant I saw because they all just had the flavor of the canyon that I wanted to remember.  We were charmed by a little mule deer who kept showing up around camp too.  We stopped at the canteen again and sat around talking and making sure we didn’t get dehydrated.  The canteen and the other buildings of Phantom Ranch were designed by Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter (click here to read more) and are nestled around BA Creek.  In its heyday, Phantom Ranch had fruit trees, a swimming pool and other up-scale features for its more important guests. This tree is one of the few remaining fruit trees. Can you guess what it is?

Starts with a P

Later in the day we went down to the Colorado, to the Boat Beach and got wet – some more than others. It was very cold as well, but refreshing. We visited the Silver Bridge, which we would travel out on the next day.

Brother Robert and I – he got wet, me not so much.

The wind was picking up around dinnertime and some of our tents were actually being blown around. Storms were forecast and temperatures were supposed to go way down. Surprisingly, the bad weather skirted around us and what we got was some gorgeous views of the moon and clouds instead. We all went to sleep early so we could break camp at 4 am and get started on the ten mile hike out to the rim.

Moonlight in the canyon

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

To be continued…

A 30,806 Step Day

And all of them were down…

Hiking the Grand Canyon, particularly the hike to the Colorado River and the inner gorge, requires that a person have a compelling desire to go down there. Without a strong motivation, the pain may not be worth the trip.

The trouble is that it is easy to go downhill quite a ways before the realization sets in that you will have to go back up. All the literature tells you that you should allow twice as much time going up as you took to go down. This surprises many people.

On this hike I was highly motivated, even in the face of probable pain. I knew that I was committed to going all the way down to Phantom Ranch, no matter how I felt. However, before we reached the halfway point descending the South Kaibab Trail, I was feeling pain in my right knee and trying to step in a certain manner to avoid aggravating it. Stepping that way began to cause a clicking in my left hip that didn’t feel right either. At each step I had to decide whether to feel the pain in my knee or start a new problem in my hip, so I alternated, hoping to keep them both happy.

As the descent continued I also noticed my toes would occasionally hit the end of the toe box of my boot. They started getting sore too. Knee jarring, toe jamming, never ending, downward stepping trail (but the views were awesome).

Several of our hiking group “the centenarians” ( not because we were old but because the park was having its centennial).

Lest you think that I was the weak link in our little group of ten hikers, I need to mention that we had three men who were in their seventies. One, Bob was his name, was 78! Bob actually fell and twisted his knee, making it necessary for him to put on a brace. He was getting weak and wobbly as well. We were sometimes hiking in the sun now, and the temperature was going up a few degrees for every thousand feet we descended. Every time I looked at Bob I was afraid he was going to fall off the edge. He was going very slowly and one of the guides stayed with him while the rest of us forged on.

This rest stop was about 2/3 of the way down, just before going into the inner gorge.

The trip down started at 7:30 a.m. and we didn’t reach the Bright Angel Campground until 3:30 p.m. This was nearly twice the estimated time! We were all ready to stop walking. Unfortunately, we still had to go up to the canteen at the Ranch, another quarter mile away, and get our duffels that had come down by mule. Fortunately we had just enough time to get there before the canteen closed to prepare for the dinner hour. The canteen is famous for reviving tired hikers with their lemonade. I had two large glasses.

We had a group campsite. I (orange tent) and Robert & Elizabeth stayed here two nights.

Even in my debilitated state, I managed to set up my tent, eat dinner and go to a “ranger talk” that night. One of my big toes was turning dark, my legs ached, but I crawled into my sleeping bag grateful for the chance to be horizontal, for a change. I had been told to bring ear plugs so the snoring of other campers wouldn’t keep me awake. That turned out to not be a problem – the creek was swollen, running fast and full and so loud that it made a superb, natural, white noise machine. I slept.

To be continued…

The Grand Canyon – Seeing for Myself

I’m back alive. It’s exhilarating to have met the challenge, to be one of the less than one percent of the 6 million visitors to the canyon who actually get below the rim.

The first thing I have to say is that distances are deceiving. We so often view the canyon in a two dimensional picture, and it is beautiful even then. But it is not a two dimensional place at all. Distances are far greater than they appear. Depths are deeper. Heights are higher. So many things are hidden behind a bend, or a cliff. A single element of the canyon, visible from the rim, may still be visible four or five miles closer and it will look slightly different from every vantage point along the way.

I want to share these views and vistas because they are the legendary beauty of the canyon. They did much to make the hike worthwhile and were a constant source of wonder and inspiration.

Is it hard for me to believe in a creator God, when the evidence is laid out for us to see – evidence of millions of years of deposition, of soil and rock, with fossils embedded? “Time and the river flowing” is written all over this canyon, but so is the mark of an amazing artist. I can believe in the story geology tells because I believe that God also created time. Science has not yet told me how he did that and it’s a question I hope to ask him, someday. I am thankful for what I saw. It increases my faith. Look at these, and wonder.

Going Off Grid

For the next few days I want to forget my devices and concentrate on the Grand Canyon (and staying alive). Even in the lodge on the rim internet is slow and frustrating. On the canyon floor it is pretty much non-existent. Join me again on Saturday when I will post each day’s fun, as recorded with pen and paper. I will have plenty of airport time to do it. See you then!

Arriving at the Canyon

I took this one myself. Bright Angel Canyon with the trail far below.

I didn’t like the way travel day ended – I got a headache that was utterly unpleasant. But yes, I did like the way it ended because I was able to get a room at Maswik Lodge and crawled into a comfy bed and slept the headache away. I love my room, and I have it tonight as well.

The scenery here is quite different from my Wisconsin wetlands. There are lots of rocks, and trees that I don’t recognize. It’s a combination of mountains and dessert. One minute we are looking at tall pines and white barked trees, and the next minute we are on a flat plain with short shrubs and grasses that have not had a lot of water. We can usually see one or more mountains with sharp pointy tops covered with snow.

Flagstaff airport is small – the kind where you walk on the tarmack from your plane to the building. I don’t know how we timed it so perfectly, but my brother arrived only minutes after I did, and we were on our way.

It is about 70 miles from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon National Park.Grand Canyon Village is bigger than I remembered, probably because it has grown. There lots of twists and turns as the roads wind from one lodge to another. It is forested, and as you look out into the pines you can see elk grazing everywhere. Unlike our Wisconsin deer who like to startle and dash into the road, these animals are used to the traffic and stand within feet of cars with no alarm.

They are everywhere, and they pay us no mind.

Most of today was spent in class with our guides Michael and Nina. There are eight of us hikers and everyone is retired. I would say that several are older than I am and one man is 78! All have done quite a bit of hiking except our Elizabeth, and a couple of them have hiked in the canyon a lot.

Our guide, Mike, talking to Bob and Elizabeth. We are on our way to the mule barn with our duffels.

We spent the time talking about our equipment, safety on the trail. We filled our duffels for the mules and took them over to the barn. And right before we quit we walked out to look at the canyon and talk about the geology. We toured the Kolb house, where the Kolb brothers had a famous photography studio – hanging on the side of the cliff right below the rim.

We start early tomorrow on our descent. Wish you were all going with us! I have pictures but they are failing to upload – not sure why.

Getting there is half the fun…

I don’t know who said that but I hope they’re wrong. Travel is amazing, and interesting but I wouldn’t call it fun.

I and all my devices got in the truck and made our way to Minneapolis last night. We had a short sleep in a motel, where I left the truck. Everything went so smoothly at the airport that I started wondering why. I finally realized that it’s one of the benefits of traveling solo. Don’t get me wrong – I love traveling with companions as well, but this kind of freedom has a charm all its own. I don’t have to match anyone in my likes, dislikes or pace. I can be as early or as late as I choose. I can eat or go without. I have one person to watch out for – me.

I am now safely in Arizona, sitting in the waiting area for the flight to Flagstaff. I decided to check in here with a short post because I have over four hours to wait and have to fill the time. I know it won’t be long before I will have to forget my “devices” and start experiencing this hike without them.

This is my first trip in a long time without my computer. Instead I’m using my phone for everything – it’s camera, tablet, caretaker of boarding passes, as well as communication central. What a device! And I have paired it with this tiny little bluetooth keyboard, which so far is doing a great job.

I sat next to a dog! I saw a fairly large man walking around in the gate area before the flight and noticed him because he had this tiny dog on a bright red leash. You don’t see this every day. Later, much later because I was in the last zone to board the plane, I got to my seat and there they were again. The little fella was so quite, slept all the way to Phoenix, and licked my hand when he woke up after we landed. Make me decide between sitting next to a kid or a dog, I’ll take the dog.

In addition to being a travel day, yesterday was Mother’s Day. It was so nice to spend it this year with my mom, my youngest daughter and my brother’s family. We went to church, had a wonderful family brunch that I wish I had taken a picture of but didn’t. We took walks and talked. Later, at the motel, I got a call from eldest daughter to round out the day.

Thanks again for the book Ryan! And this is my mini-keyboard folio.

So here goes four hours of waiting. I have a book to read. Food and drink is close at hand. Fun is ahead as I look forward to meeting up with brother Bob and Elizabeth. It’s hard to believe I’m here, so far from where I started this morning, in such a different place.

A very different place than the one I left this morning. Yes, real mountains…

It’s Happening!

The Adventure Starts

Now the rest of the events will unfold, sort of like the domino that falls and starts the whole line up toppling, one after the other.

Suitcase (and daughter) finally made it.

I consider the adventure to have started yesterday when I left for the Minneapolis airport to fetch youngest daughter to us. It was a successful trip with the usual number of unexpected turns. Her route from Seattle was through Dallas (everyone’s intuitive path…) so the storms there delayed the flight 90 minutes. Then her luggage got put on another plane and we waited another hour for that to arrive. But she made it! We were home by 11 pm.

We have Mother’s Day to celebrate with a family brunch after church today. I have packing to finish and hopefully a relaxing walk somewhere – it is warm and sunny and spring is springing. This evening I will drive back to Minneapolis and hopefully get some sleep before my early flight out to Flagstaff. It seems quite unreal that one week from this moment I will be back here, sitting in this chair probably, having gone through it all.  One week of unknown adventure and unique Grand Canyon views (and possibly physical torture…). It will be over. How does time do that to us?

Dog Therapy

Five days to go, then the adventure starts. I’m worried.

It’s another rest day, with only about 4,000 steps. My legs are feeling tired very quickly and there’s a hint of shin splints. I’m worried that this will continue, or that I’ll do something unwise like switch my shoes out, or forget something important, or get sick.

For some reason this is also the week when we have meetings with a lawyer to get our wills settled (a two hour trip to the city), and the week when paperwork for our house sale closing is being mailed back and forth, a physical exam for a new life insurance policy, and the week when youngest daughter is flying here to be with her dad while I’m gone. There is a lot going on. A lot to get ready for.

Yes, right around that ear, and don’t stop.

That is why I took time yesterday to run away to the empty sun porch over at my brother’s house. It was a time to just sit, do some journaling and thinking. It was a time for “dog therapy”. Scruffy came and sat on my lap.

Scruffy and I have gradually gotten used to each other over the last few months. I sometimes take him for a walk, and I’m usually along when his mom and dad take him for a walk. I always pet him and try to make him feel special. He didn’t always come up and want to sit on my lap, but we seem to have bonded now.  I pet him, and since he can’t really pet me back (but I think he would if he could) he licks my hand. I think that’s dog language for “pet me more”.

Scruffy and I have things in common. For one, we have hair the same color. We both love to go for walks and are easily distracted when we are outside. We’re both a bit aged. I could think of more, but that will do. All this to say that when we sit somewhere together and just chill, it is relaxing, for both of us, but especially for me. I think I worry about more things than Scruffy does. Dog therapy is quite effective since I take my cues from him and don’t worry about anything except whether my lap is comfortable for him to lay on. He is most definitely a lap dog.

Cricket, Ellie? Hope you’re having a good dog day!

Scruffy says hi to Cricket and Ellie and wants them to know he enjoys their astute comments. Dogs really have it together. Just sayin’…