I woke up this morning with no way to hold my body that didn’t hurt. Hiking from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River at the bottom and back in one day is not easy. The National Park Service warns you. Their brochures and webpages threaten dire consequences for those foolish enough to make the attempt. Men between the ages of 18 and 40 are the target audience for the campaign. Members of this benighted crowd, evidently high on testosterone and overconfident of their strength, try to do too much. The ads say that most of the people the rangers rescue are young men, and they curse the day and hold their manhood cheap whenever anyone speaks of it. Since I passed the upper limit of the group more than eight years ago, I wasn’t worried, but I have to admit it was a tough trip.
The biggest challenge is the heat. It was 117 degrees on the canyon floor. The sun fixes its blank and pitiless gaze on the canyon from about 5:30 am until 7:00 pm and heats up the rocks so that they radiate heat like a rotisserie grill. During most of the day there is almost no shade anywhere. You literally cannot drink enough water to prevent dehydration if you move around in the sun between about 10 and 3:00, since your body can absorb only a liter of water an hour and you can easily sweat out two liters. If I ever do this again, it will not be in the middle of summer. The payoff is truly breathtaking scenery. The pictures I included do not do it justice. No pictures I have ever seen can capture the true majesty, but I do suggest you consult a site that features taken by professionals with more skill and better equipment.
I went down with my brother in law Alex Sandoval and one of his neighbors named Bob. Bob is an eagle scout who had experience walking up and down the canyon. Although he was only about sixteen years old, the kid was our guide. Both Alex and Bob are young, in excellent condition and are indigenous to this hot, dry climate. I was outclassed. As the kid ranged effortlessly ahead, I kept on thinking, for reasons I can’t explain, of Yoda and said to myself, “Wonder whether you this good will look when you my age are.” It didn’t make me feel any better when he complimented me on being so old and still able to walk relatively well – not in exactly those words of course, but it is like complimenting an old lady by telling her that she must have been very good looking when she was younger.
We started down the South Kaibab trail at 5:30 when the temperature was still pleasant. It only took us about 3 ½ hours to get to the bottom. The kid set a grueling pace. We passed many people along the trail. Some carried what looked like ski poles. It was a good idea, takes some pressure off the knees and generally improves balance. I have included pictures from the trip down. There were many breathtaking views, but my pictures insufficient to express them. At the bottom there is not much to do except lay in the cool streams. This pleasure is not to be underestimated, but you can only do it so long, especially because the sun is high and hot. We finally hunkered down in a shelter probably build by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The CCC boys did a good job. We stayed there, protected from the worst of the sun until about 3:00. Then we started up the hill on the Bright Angel trail.
Bright Angel is very beautiful but I would have enjoyed it more if it had not been so hot. If it is 117 in the shade, the ranger told us that is probably 130 in the sun. The hot rocks actually destroyed my shoes. They were old and I would have thought it was just their age, but Alex’s shoes also came apart and the ranger told us that part of her shoe gave out. Anyway, the bottom came off my right shoe. I had to put a sock over it to keep shoe and sole together. This expedient worked until almost the end of the hike. It is a very tough hike. The Grand Canyon is like a reverse mountain – first you go down and only then – when you are tired out – you do up. Bright Angel follows a little stream much of the time. We dunked ourselves on several occasions to stay cool. About halfway up the hill, you come to “Indian Garden,” an oasis of cottonwood trees. It is very pleasant and there is drinkable water. We got there about 5:00 and for the first time the walls of the canyon shaded out the sun in many places. I would have liked to stay in this little paradise, but it was still 4 ½ miles to the top with an elevation gain of more than 3000 feet. The last three miles were the hardest. Up and up, more up and up again. My enthusiasm was waning, but I kept on putting one foot in front of the other. It was a perdition highway with about fifty lost souls slogging up the hill at the end of their day. Of course, I felt more virtuous than most, since we had hiked all the way down and back. Most day-trippers hike down to Indian Gardens and back only. Logs designed to limit erosion on the trail are placed just a little too far apart to allow you to step from one to another. Between are potholes, so you are always stepping up and down and unable to get a decent rhythm. My shoe fell apart just before I got to the rim. The flapping of my shoe attracted attention and made it harder to walk. Finally, I just cut the bottom clean off and walked on the foam.
Well, it is a tough job but somebody has to do it. I would not have made it if it had not been for Alex. He made sure we brought enough water and salty snacks, and he understood that we had to rest as well as walk. Yesterday at about 7:00 I would have paid a thousand dollars for someone to drive me to the top and I promised myself I would never get into a situation like that again. Now sitting in air-conditioned comfort, I now look forward to my next hike.