Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim to Rim

Chris spent months training for the Grand Canyon and dropped 30 lbs.

Fresh off the plane in Phoenix.  First stop, pancakes at Matt's Big Breakfast.

Still giddy and unaware of the challenges ahead!

 On our second day in Arizona, we all competed in a trail 10K.  This was my first race hoodie.

These guys rocked the hoodie!

I'm still battling my hamstring injury.  And so the girls walked the 10k.  The boys ran the entire distance.

Jim claimed a 3rd place award, and Chris ran an awesome race!

After the race in Flagstaff, we headed over the Grand Canyon to prepare for our adventures!

On Sunday morning, our alarm buzzed at 3:30 a.m.  This was my hiking wear to start the day.

 For the next 14 hours, we traveled from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the north rim.

We took a rest day on Monday and relaxed on the north rim.

On Tuesday, we made the 14 hour hike back to the south rim.

My friend Claudia is one who holds many bucket lists.  She has almost completed her quest to run a half marathon or marathon in all 50 states.  Along with the races, she has other things she hopes to accomplish in this lifetime.  One is hiking rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon.

About a year ago, she asked us to join her on the trip. Young (sort of) and naive, we agreed to accompany her on this adventure.  I ran marathons, I thought.  A little hiking across the Grand Canyon will seem like a walk in the park, I imagined.  Would I even break a sweat, I wondered without a hint of humbleness.

In my cloudy thinking, I forgot about a couple of things:

1) The Grand Canyon is not flat.

2)  Hiking across the Grand Canyon takes time....a lot of it.

3)  Hikers in the Grand Canyon must carry a backpack roughly the same weight as a small child.

4)  Temperatures in some parts of the Grand Canyon rival the surface of the sun.

These things I would learn as I embarked upon our journey.

A few weeks ago, we landed in Phoenix.  A short car ride later, we arrived in Flagstaff.  For the first day, we toured around Flagstaff, eating, shopping, and having a grand old time.

Then the mood of the trip changed.

On our second night in Arizona, we traveled to the Grand Canyon and lodged in one of their hotels.  We ate our last meal (of sorts) and gleefully discussed the adventure that awaited us the next day: traveling from the south rim to the north rim in the span of a day.

Sunday morning, our alarm buzzed at 3:30 a.m.  We jolted out of bed, threw on layers of clothing and pulled on our backpacks.  By 4:30 a.m., we arrived at the Bright Angel trail head.

We walked in the dark for the first 90 minutes.  Headlamps illuminated our path, and we hugged the wall to avoid a dangerous misstep.  While we couldn't see the canyon, the stars were particularly bright and unobstructed.  Constellations were visible.  The moon made a path in the sky.

Around 6 a.m., the sun peeked over the canyon.  We witnessed the most spectacular display of sunset.  The sun's rays danced across the canyon.  It was like veil was lifted and the staring act was suddenly on stage.  We were in awe.

A few hours into the hike, we arrived at the Colorado River.  I imagined the Colorado River to be a clear, rushing presence in the bottom of the canyon.  Instead, the Colorado River was a murky, brown (almost dingy) looking body of water.  Despite its lackluster appearance, it symbolized to us that we had reached the bottom.  We had tackled a quarter of our journey and ventured into territory that was both foreign and spectacular to all of us.

The Phantom Ranch sits just about a mile off the Colorado River.  It is an oasis to hikers.  In the middle of lots of nothing, it houses a canteen complete with beverages and an array of food options.  We sat in the air-conditioned building and marveled at how exactly our cold Lipton Ice Teas arrived at the bottom of the canyon.

Thirty minutes later, we were back on our feet.  We had now arrived in what is known as the "box."  The box is the flat, bottom part of the canyon that seems to go on forever and traps heat.  Our hike started with temperatures in the 40s.  In the box, we faced 90 degree temperatures with full sun.

While the scenery was breathtaking, the conditions became brutal.  When we started our hike, our conversations were bubbly and giddy.  Now, our group grew quiet.  Mentally, I was focusing on reaching each camp ground along the way and celebrating the arrival of each milestone.

By 2:30 p.m., we started our incline.  Thank you Grand Canyon for starting us out slow.  For the next few miles, the terrain was rolling.  Then, just as our energy was waning, the Grand Canyon got real.  I would describe it as being on a step stair master for hours (in the heat).  The Colorado River sits at 2,400 ft. elevation.  The North Rim scales to 8,200 ft. elevation.  You do the math!

By 4:30 p.m., several members of our group were spent.  We had to rally and regain strength and momentum to hit the top.  The last two hours were a test to the power of the human spirit and the camaraderie of friends.

At 6:30 p.m, when the sun was about to dip below the canyon walls, we arrived at the north rim (25 miles later).  The feeling was euphoric.  We made it.  We preserved beyond what we could imagine.  But the celebration was tempered with the thought we had to do it again.

Monday, we relaxed on the north rim.  The north rim is the shyer of the two sides.  It is pure and unblemished, largely shielded from the masses of tourist.  We spent our hours lounging in the Grand Canyon lodge.  We snagged a leather sofa that had the best views of the canyon and literally didn't move for hours.  Other lodge guests would make conversation from time to time.  We met a lovely woman from Australia who has visited every square inch of America.  

Another gentleman in a wheelchair made pleasant conversation with our group.  After listening to our adventures, he voiced his desire to join in our hiking, but noted his physical limitations.

This conversation stuck with me when we embarked on our hike back to the south rim the next day.

While so many things about this hike were challenging, it was equal part amazing.  And I couldn't help be grateful that we were able to have this experience.

A park ranger said only 5% of park visitors walk into the Grand Canyon (and only 1% hikes more than 1 1/2 miles).  

We gazed at things within the canyon that few have witnessed.  Waterfalls trickle through rocky crevices.  A trail named Devil's Corkscrew winds around the cliffs and offers the most spectacular feast for the eye.  The Colorado River (while brown) is majestic and commanding.

We instantly felt a camaraderie with the other hikers we encountered along the way.  When we passed fellow hikers, we exchanged hometowns and stories. We were well past pleasantries, and more like like-minded good friends embarking on the same journey.

The best part of the adventures was that it was accomplished with my husband and good friends.  Doing rim to rim to rim is not a solitary achievement, but a communal feat that brought our group a deeper sense of friendship and a greater sense of delight.  

Would I recommend hiking rim to rim to rim?  Yes, but know the wonderful experience and views can only be experienced with a dose of perseverance and pain (which is always true for the best things in life).

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