After passing through the beautiful but depressed Navajo Indian Reservation, and enjoying all the wonderful ruins in Cheyenne Canyon, we headed towards the Grand Canyon. We were floored by the depth and color variation of the canyon but it was almost too much to take in. As if, your eye cannot physically comprehend the magnitude of the biggest hole in the Earth. There were thousands of other tourists visiting, most of which were foreigners. Both Fred and I heard more foreign languages being spoken than English –fine by us. The Grand Canyon was similar to Cheyenne Canyon in the way that it’s a driving exploration. You drive to all different look out points snap a couple hundred pictures, then zoom off to the next point of interest. The first couple days we were there we took the shuttle around to watch the sun set over the canyon and make it to all the lookout points. Amazing to sit on the edge of the Grand Canyon with hundreds of people saying things we couldn’t understand, watching the setting sun illuminate different parts of the canyon while the sky turned red, orange, and pink. It felt very good for all us people to share those moments and all be gathered around something monumental; larger than anyone of us, rich with history, but still containing mystery. During one of the sun sets, Fred and I sat on a bench with two old people that didn’t know each other. We all watched people come and go frantically snapping pictures while us four sat on our own little island absorbing the beauty instead of trying to preserve it for the future.
We camped in the National Forest during our stay and were delighted to see that we weren’t the only ones inhabiting the area. On a few mornings we woke to mangled mule deer legs outside our tent. And on occasions saw many giant yellow eyes when one of us got up to take a midnight pee.
We got a little sick of the crowd and doing the tourist thing at the Grand Canyon so we obtained a back country permit and decided to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back. We choose a trail that had a 38% fatality rating and geared up. Our hike was 8 miles straight down the canyon and then our trail back up was 10 miles. This expedition was the most epic, intense, and wonderful thing Fred and I have ever done. At 104 degrees inside the canyon and with over a 4,000 foot elevation change this hike was quite dangerous.
We didn’t so much hike downhill; it was more like trying to lessen the momentum gained by skidding down using every muscle in our calf creating a shuffling motion. It was hot, really hot, but it was so worth it. We got to hike down into the Grand Canyon and see all the color changes in the rock and the entire wild life dwelling beneath the surface –it was just so beautiful.
It took us all morning and into the afternoon to reach the very bottom of the Canyon marked by the Colorado River. Normally the river is a dingy brown but we were lucky enough to come during the few weeks a year when the river runs bright green. We walked over the old suspension bridge that was built sometime back in the ‘20s to the back country camp sites. We finally got to a camping spot and threw down our 30 pound packs. I was so tired I had to rest for a while on the picnic bench. Fred kept nagging me to eat but I was so tired it was hard to eat the beat and quinoa stir fry he had prepared the day before. Suddenly I felt like was going to throw up –like really badly throw up. Poof! Next thing I knew I was lying down on the picnic bench with a wet T shirt on my head with water from the small stream adjacent to us running down all over me! Fred was right in my face yelling at me to lie down –of course when I realized all this was happening I tried to sit up. Which really made him angry and he yelled at me again to lie down.
Apparently I had said a few times that I was going to puke and then I began staring at Fred and went white as a ghost. Fred told me I was looking at nothing and repeating, “oh shit oh shit oh shit” for a while then suddenly stood up knocking over our glass jar full of the beat and quinoa stir fry. Then I just fell over stiff as a board, luckily Fred caught me by my arm before my head hit the rocky ground and he yelled to our neighboring camper to get a T Shirt and plunge it into the water for me.
I’m not sure how long I was blacked out for but it was long enough to scare Fred to death. Once I came back, I felt great –lots of energy; not sick anymore just a head ache. But Fred wouldn’t let me sit up or move or anything –he just kept pouring freezing cold water on me. His intense fear that I was sick at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with no medical help for 10 miles in the most harsh desert climate known to man, made him extremely angry. He grounded me to my picnic bench and to my lying down position and set off to find a ranger.
After a quick quiz of what I had eaten and drank that day the ranger decided the reason I passed out when I did was because I had no salt in my body. So I was drinking enough water and eating enough food but didn’t have any salt in my body to absorb the water –it was just running right through me- which explains why I had to pee every 20 minutes on the hike down. Thus depriving my brain of water and my entire body shutting down. The ranger also explained that a mule ride out of the canyon was $800 dollars and a helicopter lift out was $7,500. Awesome, I’ll walk.
When Fred got back I persuaded him that I was feeling much better and he reluctantly let me sit up. Then I had the lovely task of holding a couple tablespoons of sea salt under my tongue then swallowing the left over, so that it wouldn’t happen again. The sea salt did help and I was mostly glad I didn’t have to pee every five minutes anymore. Everyone’s happy.
We walked to the Colorado River just outside our camp site and saw more mule deer, birds, and lizards roaming around. Fred and I laid on the bank of the river and stared up at the ancient creation around us. We repeated over and over again that we just couldn’t believe we were kickin’ it on the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was so surreal and special. Fred swam in the river even though it was icy cold to a small island and roamed around.
There was an absolutely gorgeous little creek running through the campsite with fresh water fed by a spring that you could drink out of and hang out downstream in. The creek was the perfect lounging temperature and I enjoyed the water much more seeing how I was not having it poured all over me against my will. We made lots of friends with the other people who had done the trail earlier that day and ate lots of food.
The next morning we got up early, around 5 a.m and started the much more daunting task of hiking up the Grand Canyon. There is a section of the up trail called the Devils Corkscrew, it is a series of switchback directly in the path of the afternoon sun that apparently claims the lives of young men and women who think they are invincible. We made it through the corkscrew before 9 a.m but passed two middle aged gentlemen that were not in good shape. They had their little plastic water bottles and looked really sick and tired there wasn’t anything we could do expect tell them the time and suggest that when they get to the rest house just a few miles ahead to get a ranger’s help. This hike was no joke.
On the trail up they had a rest house every couple miles with picnic benches under man made shade and water spickets. It was such great fun to hang out at these rest houses because all the other hikers gathered there; people from all around the world, with different back grounds and hobbies and skill levels. We all became instant friends and told travelling stories and chatted about the adventure we were all on. Fred and I had a proper introduction with our camping neighbors who had gotten me the socked shirt. They were an elderly couple from London who had travelled all around the world and were in amazing shape. The wife came to me sternly with narrow eyes and a tight lip and interrogated me about my health and how I was feeling. At every rest house she mothered me tough-love style and made me eat, drink, and rest. We got to know them very well and became great friends, the four of us. They made us promise to come to London and stay with them some day and gave us their contact information.
There were many middle aged people on the trail that told us this was the coolest thing they had ever done in their life. Some said it was a bucket list item they’ve wanted to do for years. Others said they needed to prove to themselves that they could do such a strenuous task. I felt a little sheepish, seeing how we decided to do this only a couple of days ago.
There was a campground half way up the canyon for people who could physically make it all the way up in one day called Indian Gardens. It is the only place on the trail with an ounce of shade and it was total oasis of beauty, water, and vegetation. A shaded area with lush green plants incasing a beautiful spring fed creek –we enjoyed the beauty and ate our lunch (mine including another couple tablespoons of sea salt) for a couple hours chatting with other hikers.
The last couple miles were the killer: practically vertical up the rocky path in the heat of the afternoon sun. It was hard to believe we were actually climbing out of a giant hole! But we made it to the top feeling great and alive and also the sensation that walking was impossible. It seemed like every step on level ground set firey needles up my legs and core. We waited at the top for our elderly friends and hugged all around. Then the four of us waited for all the other hiker friends we made, we congratulated them and gave high fives and lots of hugs. One woman (whose husband I noticed was a complete dick) was crying her eyes out because she thought she wasn’t going to make it out. Others were crying and emotional with the pride they felt –we did it!
Looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon seemed to have all new meaning and features now. We were down there camped out under the stars. We got to see what it really looks like; our eyes could perceive and recognize it. From the top everything just looked like shapes and colors but from down below the shapes towered over head and the patterns were intricate and attention grabbing. It was just more real. So much more than just a few snapped photos of pretty landscape – now the photos had a feeling behind them. Feelings of pride and being strong, intense fear for my health and safety, and the feeling of bliss that comes with losing yourself in a hard task surrounded by unspoiled beauty and great new friends. That is the kind of thing that photos cannot captured.
What a grand adventure in, out, and around the Grand Canyon!