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Hiking the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon North Side Hike

This article is an essay of the trip down. For reservation/planning/hiking advice in the Grand Canyon, try here: Grand Canyon Planning.

Grand Canyon Trip, September 11, 2001

For two years I planned my second trip to hike the Grand Canyon. Along for the long walk: my husband; my cousin, John; brother-in-law, Jerry; his son and my nephew, Toby.

We all trained diligently and Toby being youngest at eighteen, was determined to be “first” to arrive at every location. My cousin, being foolish and old enough to know better, was determined to keep up.

We arrived at the North Rim on September 10th and hiked about the top of the rim, watching the haze from various wildfires color the canyon and change its voice. Standing at the top, it is hard to imagine hiking all the way to the bottom. It looks quite perilous and inhospitable, even impossible.

My husband and I hiked some of the short rim trails, stealing some time for ourselves. We talked about the first time we hiked the canyon, the wildfires and our current entourage. These quiet moments are precious to me; a time to reflect the mission at hand and a time to rest from the rigors of daily life.

Unfortunately, many of the other memories of this trip will always be overshadowed by what happened in the real world while we, unsuspecting, began hiking down the canyon on September 11. In retrospect, the canyon was remarkably quiet that day.

On our first trip here years ago, planes and various light craft flew overhead. On this day, nothing broke the silence of the canyon save a few other voices; our ham radios when we checked in with our relatives that ran far ahead of us, and the very occasional happy chattering of other hikers.

At Roaring Springs, five or so miles in, the waters still thundered into Bright Angel Creek and the caretaker’s dwelling offered a welcoming table, chairs and water. Cousin John, Nephew Toby and Jerry were waiting impatiently for our arrival so they could regale us with their adventures thus far and then scoot off into the next phase. Other hikers on their way back out from Cottonwood Camp warned us that it was a bumper year for rattlesnakes down by the creek.

The weather was warm as we started on the flatter part of the hike that winds alongside Bright Angel Creek. We found pictures we had not taken before and again appreciated the hugeness of the canyon and the overwhelming size of the boulders, mountains, cliffs and indelible features. The swallows that we had seen on our last trip were nowhere to be found this time around.

Ribbon Falls

Ribbon Falls, a mile past Cottonwood Camp, was a wonderful respite. We met the boys and Jerry already trooping out of the area. My husband and I released our tired feet from our shoes and soaked our feet. The falls were a tad crowded this year as a group of seven or so women hiking together were swimming in the falls, but we enjoyed the rest.

About an hour past the falls, I had to stop and doctor some nasty blisters that had swelled. Most likely this injury occurred because I foolishly hadn’t dried my feet well enough. The moleskin protected the blisters well and though my feet weren’t entirely comfortable, I was able to continue on without any real trouble.

We reached Phantom Ranch perhaps an hour after the others in our party, and we jumped into Bright Angel Creek to soak away our various muscle ailments. It wasn’t long before news of the attack on the towers filtered through the camp.

Disbelieving at first, checks with the rangers proved that something indeed had occurred, although in the canyon getting news was slow. There is one pay phone and it was in constant use as people checked with their family members and tried to piece together a coherent story.

Ah, instead of getting away from it all, the world’s despair sent its fingers after us on the trail. Cousin John is a reserve in the Navy; with so little news and so few facts, he began to wonder if he should begin hiking back out immediately in order to be ready should he be called. News that National Parks were being closed left us wondering if we would be stuck in the canyon or worse, forced to hike out in one direction or another, possibly away from our parked car.

As the day passed, we shared news with other hikers. At dinner, the ranger read the latest news as it was understood at the time. More trips to the phone booth, more reassurances and more worry from those above.

Sunset from Bridge at Colorado River

The next day we wandered aimlessly before hiking to the Colorado River. The great carving machine is about a mile from Phantom and once there, we tried to enjoy the solitude. We knew that we would not have to walk back out of the canyon today, but when we did go, we were not certain we would be able to fly home. Planes, except for emergencies, were grounded.

On our way back to Phantom, with a storm brewing overhead, just such a flight emergency was underway and we were stopped on the trail. The ranger requested that we remain clear for several minutes and stop other hikers because a rescue helicopter was on its way.

Within moments, out of nowhere, a giant yellow bird edged around the canyon wall, filling empty space just above the trees, rushing ahead of the threatening rain. The chopper landed, but could not take off until the storm had subsided. When it did, we waited on the other end of the trail, watching it lift and curve in the narrow side canyon, cheating the walls of any victims. We never learned the fate of its passenger, but we assume that the talented rescuers made good on their mission.

Again in the evening more news was read by the ranger. The facts were looking even bleaker as the number of planes hijacked was confirmed. What had swelled as rumor from various phone contact became harder fact.

Cousin John was again consumed with frustrated energy, wanting to be somewhere, wanting to do something, wanting to help. None of us could imagine what was going on above the canyon. The ranger had an internet connection, but there were no televisions or radios for news purposes; we learned things slowly. As the facts trickled in, they were printed and posted in the canteen.

Though we hiked and relaxed throughout the next day, there was a taint in the air. The discussions surrounded the attack and what it all meant. There seemed to be little enough time for discussing college plans for Toby, future career plans for the rest of us, and never enough time for day dreaming. Always, there were the news checks to see if further developments had occurred.

Even as we began the journey back out on Friday, we did not know when we would be flying home. The last news we had heard was that commercial flights were still grounded. My husband and I hiked slower than ever, not wanting the vacation to end and not quite sure it had ever begun.

Cousin John and Nephew Toby did reach the top before the rest of us; Toby managed to save just enough energy to sprint ahead of Cousin John as the trailhead came into site, winning bragging rights for all time and probably a pulled hamstring to which he will never admit. Jerry was out next and the three of them showered and changed before my husband and I made it to the top.

Tired and disheveled, we were still essentially without news on the North side, but we slept peacefully in our cabins before heading back to the real world the next morning.

We all made our flights and had no real problems. Television sets showed the surreal destruction over and over and many days after returning, Jerry discovered that an old friend had been a passenger on one of the planes.

The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most magnificent wonders and well worth the trip if you’re able to spend the time and energy planning, training and walking. It is arduous, and while it may not be possible to leave the world entirely behind, the depth and isolation are worth exploring. Plan well, travel safe and may the world not intrude on your adventure!

Posted: July 22, 2006
Filed in Hiking the Grand Canyon

Hiking the Grand Canyon–Preparation

Hiking the Grand Canyon (North Rim to Phantom Ranch)

Planning

The most comfortable way to stay at the Grand Canyon is to plan twenty-three months in advance and get reservations to stay at the bottom at Phantom Ranch. You really can’t count on getting reservations closer to your travel plans because the reservations are almost impossible to obtain. Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the organization that handles reservations, begins taking reservations one year and eleven months (to the day) ahead of time. If you don’t call on the first day of the month, first thing in the morning, you may not get accommodations!

The benefits of staying at Phantom Ranch versus camping are many. Phantom Ranch provides towels, showers, bedding, a roof over your head, heater, swamp cooler, and running water. This means you carry less down into the canyon on your back! If you desire, and I do recommend, Phantom Ranch will provide meals including breakfast, pack lunch and dinner.

When to Visit

My favorite time to visit the Grand Canyon is in May, but September and October have nice weather as well. Both sides of the canyon are wonderful; the North Rim is slightly less traveled because it is farther from civilization—perfect for getting away. The top of the canyon on the North side is closed in the winter. Due to the elevation changes from the top of the canyon to the bottom, the temperature changes can be severe. We needed a light jacket for the top and shorts for the bottom—consider taking hiking pants that convert to shorts (the legs zip off).

If you are able to get reservations, plan to stay down in the canyon three nights. The first day will be for recovery and the second day for walking around and seeing the sights. If you stay only one night and have suffered from blisters, sore muscles or other complications, hiking the fourteen miles back out is going to be very difficult and may be impossible.

It is illegal to be in the canyon overnight without a reservation or camping permit and there are rangers checking. Make their job easier; be prepared and only go in if you have made plans to stay.

Food
Having Phantom Ranch supply meals means you carry less. The breakfast is hearty and served at 5:00 a.m. if you are hiking out of the canyon that day and at 6:30 a.m. if you are staying down in the canyon. Dinner is either steak served at 5:00 p.m. or stew at 6:30 p.m. Lunch is a pack lunch that includes such items as fruit, granola, bagel, and sausage.

Both times I hiked, I took enough of my own food to cover lunch. Reserve your meals in advance—everything in the canyon must be transported up and down by mule or human so while you may be able to buy a pack lunch, you probably can’t buy any of the other meals. Vegetarian meals are also available. Breakfast is approximately $17.00 per person; steak dinner ~$30.00; stew dinner ~$20.00.

Cost
Phantom Ranch prices change every year and even though you pay in advance, you are still required to pay any difference in fees as your time for arrival gets closer. On our last trip, September 2001, I had the reservations two years in advance and the price went up twice; I had to pay the difference.

That said, the rates are very reasonable. In 2001 a dormitory style bed ran about twenty-five a night, and the hiker cabin (much harder to reserve) was about $100 a night, but sleeps four people. All prices are subject to change so call for the latest pricing.

Training for the Hike
Hiking the Grand Canyon is an exceptional journey, but it is not an easy hike regardless of whether you chose to travel the south side or the north. Many hikers go down one side and out the other, but this takes planning because you’ll have to leave a vehicle at the opposite side or arrange for shuttle service.

The drive from the South Rim to the North Rim is between four and five hours long. Because of the larger number of day hikers and mule trains on the south side, I preferred going in and out the north side.

The North Kaibab Trail into the canyon is fourteen miles one way. The Bright Angel Trail on the south side is ten miles. The elevation changes are extreme in any case so expect switchbacks and steep hiking either direction.

To prepare for this hike, you should be training at least six months in advance and carry a pack during training in order to acclimate yourself to the weight. I walked two to four miles every day and did several six and nine-mile practice hikes on the weekends. In Austin, St. Edward’s Park provides some good elevation hiking. If not there, find somewhere that contains some steep ups and downs to get in shape. Don’t try this hike unless you are in good shape.

Emergency rescue in the canyon is expensive and sometimes, due to high winds, helicopters cannot land, so be responsible and be prepared.

What to Take
The Kaibab website and the www.grandcanyonlodges.com have a lot of good information. Read through some of the trip reports, pay attention to the time of the year and in general take plenty of food and water. You can live without a lot of other things. Some useful things to have along that aren’t always talked about:

Moleskin found in the foot care section of stores such as Wal-Mart or pharmacies. Moleskin is a must-have if you get blisters. It attaches to the blister or sore skin and acts as a protective covering and is much more effective protection than a band-aide.
Sports drink such as Powerade or Gatorade. Both of these can be found in powered mix form and the powder is lighter to carry. You can mix what you need whenever replenishing your water supply.

If you’re staying at Phantom Ranch, the dormitory style showers have all-purpose shower soap. The showers are locked so you must be a guest at the Ranch to use them!
Take lots of snacks. Jerky, summer sausage, crackers, cookies, and granola are good examples.

There is a pay phone at Phantom Ranch.

Take a decent camera, film, and extra batteries, but unless you want all the extra weight, leave multiple lenses at home.

Knife, flashlight, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, light jacket, nail clippers, earplugs, handkerchief (dusty trails when mule packs come down); map if you want one (try Trails Illustrated), personal medications, and first aide items for headaches, diarrhea, constipation; potassium supplement in case of mineral depletion; water bottles with screw on caps (the snap on ones tend to leak); a change of clothes (hand wash and dry a set so that you only have to carry two sets) and toothbrush and toothpaste!

First aide items can be purchased at Phantom Ranch as well as beverages and some snacks.

Xanterra Parks and Resorts reservations: (303) 297-2757

Time Stands Still
The Grand Canyon is a spectacular place to hike, whether just for the day or overnight. It is the only place that I know of that you can walk all day, getting farther and farther from civilization, and end up in a pretty darn comfortable “hotel.” Only so many visitors are allowed in the canyon each day so you share your experience with a minimum of people. It’s isolated, beautiful and special.

Starting at the North Rim, you see the grandeur of the canyon and drink in its vastness. It’s hard to imagine hiking it when you’re standing at the top. The North Rim is heavily forested and sits at 8200 feet above sea level. The air is cool in the early mornings, and the surrounding vegetation provides a hospitable home to turkeys, deer, elk and other abundant wildlife.

As you hike down the canyon, the cliff walls are arranged before you in spectacular layers of white, red and browns that contrast with the green forest. Depending on the time of year and rainfall, there are many spots where you can see water running down the face of the cliffs.

When you leave the towering cliffs behind, the desert begins to insert itself. One world replaces another; the trees become more stunted and yucca, century plants and other cacti can easily be spotted, especially if blooming. This first five miles is steep and filled with downhill switchbacks.

At approximately 4800 feet above sea level, things level off a tad, and you’ve arrived at Roaring Springs. You’ll see a waterfall thundering into the creek, and moments later you arrive at the caretaker’s dwelling and pump station. This is a private residence, but there is a water pump and a rough picnic table. This makes for a good spot to rest, eat lunch and check for blisters! You’re not quite halfway, but the most brutal downhill stretches are behind you.

The North Kaibab trail begins by following Bright Angel Creek, and you’re now in a riparian environment, with mountains of rocky terrain visible in every direction and the towering cliffs seen off in the distance. The swallows in May dashed along Bright Angel, swooping and showing off their green-colored backs. Cottonwood Camp is about two miles from the private residence and is at about 4000 feet above sea level. The good news for your legs is that the remaining seven miles is a gradual decline to 2400 feet where the Colorado River carves out the bottom of the canyon.

Cottonwood Camp is another good spot for lunch if you didn’t stop earlier. There are tables, trees and drinkable water if the pumps are working. The rest of the hike to the Colorado is not difficult, but it is long.

Once past the campground, about a mile south, is a trail leading to Ribbon Falls. Ribbon Falls is well worth a side trip, but if you take this diversion, you are adding about a mile round trip to your fourteen-mile hike. It is a delightful resting place though, and the moss-covered cliffs that house the falls are magical and cooling. Soak your feet and climb behind the falls before heading back out to the main trail.

The trail soon leads to Box Canyon, and while Bright Angel Creek still winds at your feet, the canyon walls are now narrow and dark. Picturesque footbridges span the creek when crossing is required; sometimes the wall of the canyon comes right to the river and there is no way to continue except to cross to the other side. In the summer, Box Canyon can get extremely hot. When we hiked in May it was easily upwards of 100 degrees. Make sure you have plenty of water for this stretch and if you get overheated, douse yourself with water if necessary. This part of the canyon is like a fantasy trip to another planet. There is but one way to walk and the walls are watching you.

Once Box Canyon recedes, you will soon find yourself, with great relief, at Phantom Ranch. If there is time before your scheduled dinner, don’t hesitate to leap into Bright Angel Creek and let the natural pounding of the water be a whirlpool for sore muscles. I recommend jumping in dirty clothes and all since the ones you’re wearing will require washing anyway! The river is delightful and the view is made of all things still and peaceful.

After dinner, spend some time sitting outside. If you’re still able to walk, consider making a mile trip in time for a spectacular sunset at the Colorado River. Stand on one of two bridges that span the river and watch for river rafts making their way through the canyon. On your way back to Phantom Ranch, you are quite likely to see numerous bats flitting about. They are astounding to watch and quite entertaining.

During your days down in the canyon, there are numerous day hikes. Hike partway out the south side on South Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail. You could also make a day trip back to Ribbon Falls if you missed seeing it on the way down. There are other trails available, as well as Indian ruins and the beach area at the Colorado River. The rangers typically have informative sessions during the evenings to tell you about the geology, the trails, and the wildlife.

When you hike out, take your time. You have all day to get to the top and you’ll want to save your energy for the last few miles because they are the steepest and the most difficult. There are mule trains that come down both the south and north trails; carefully step to the inside of the trail and let them pass. Stop often and have the time of your life.

For travelogues on hiking the Grand Canyon:
North Side to Phantom
Rim to Rim

Posted: July 22, 2006
Filed in Hiking the Grand Canyon

Rim to Rim Grand Canyon

This article is an essay of the trip down: for reservation/planning/hiking advice in the Grand Canyon, try here: Grand Canyon Planning

Rim to Rim via North Kaibab & Bright Angel trails
May 22 – 24, 1996

A few years ago, my parents, my husband and family friend (Craig) hiked the Grand Canyon. I thought we would become part of the canyon and take a bit of it home forever.

From the moment we stepped from the shuttle to the North Rim, I knew it wasn’t to be.

The Canyon is too grand, too impersonal. The towering walls of the North rim mask any chance of becoming a part of the canyon even for a moment. Pictures cannot reproduce their distant, untouchable grandeur. The sights and smells do not belong to the rest of the world.

Even the deer we saw as we began our trek were uncaring of our presence. They ate as if they knew we were mere visitors and could not really touch them. Just as we could not move the deer, I could not touch the canyon.

View of Cliffs

The soaring walls loomed in front of us, behind us; on every side. I stopped to take pictures, to point out a certain rock, but my parents were already far ahead, my husband and his friend too far behind. I waited for them, but they had their own excitement, their own discoveries.

The first miles of the North Kaibab are not difficult, and I remember thinking that some of the dire instructions I had read were too grim. All advice warned that for hiking off the main trail, I should carry a compass, a mirror and tablets for purifying water. Off trail? Where? There was nothing but steep cliffs on either side! There wasn’t even enough brush to step to the side and answer nature’s call, never mind get lost.

As we descended, the pine trees that clung to tiny ledges were replaced by scrappy bushes hanging from scant soil, none of which could hide more than a rabbit. I found myself regretting that I did not know more about the flora. Even the giant asparagus-like plant that looked much like the New Mexico Century plant, or Agave, was alien.

The plants became increasingly desert-like as we hiked down. It had been a dry year in Arizona. We could see places where water had carved telltale marks, but this Spring, none ran. On the side of the canyon where we walked, damp rock fed a drying moss substance, but there were only two such spots that I saw.

The solitude of the North side was wonderful after the hectic, tourist-filled day we had spent on the South side. There were other hikers on the trail, but no more than ten or so.

Four miles into the canyon I began walking with my husband and his friend. We broke out snacks; we had left at six, too early to collect breakfast at the lodge. As the path crossed a water-carved white basin, we thought it a nice place to pitch a tent—except that it sloped downwards and if campers weren’t careful, they might slide right off the steep slope and down into the canyon!

As the day wakened and we passed flowering bushes, the locusts applauded; my husband doffed his hat. “Thank you, thank you.” Craig, our friend from Wisconsin, studied the ugly bugs; he had never seen a locust before.

Buildings came into sight way below us then and I thought surely it must be Cottonwood Camp. Soon, the breathtaking Roaring Springs made itself known and the rest of the descent to the buildings was spent taking pictures from every possible angle.

I identified Bright Angel Creek below, which the waterfall feeds. Happily I knew we were getting closer to succeeding, that much closer to Phantom Ranch. At Roaring Springs, my mother and father waited.

Outside the private residence area, we ate again. For me, it was the all-important moleskin stop. Before coming, I had seen the advice recommending moleskin. Not knowing what it was, I almost ignored it. I couldn’t find it in the camping section and had given up. Luckily, my mother found some in the “Dr. Sholl’s” section. I taped a bit wherever my feet were rubbed and sore and we continued on.

We stopped and ate again at Cottonwood camp, which is perhaps another mile. Now, before you picture five little piglets trooping to Phantom ranch… we were only eating small amounts! Besides, eating helps ensure that hikers drink enough water. I read that somewhere. :>)

Lizards abounded at Cottonwood camp, as did ants and very fat squirrels.

Bright Angel

For a while we marched along Bright Angel together. I was very excited about reaching Ribbon Falls. Of all the places on the North hike I had read about, this one excited me the most. I love waterfalls and hadn’t expected Roaring Springs to really have viewable falls. Even though it did, I was still looking forward to this next one.

When we reached the trailhead for Ribbon Falls, we could barely distinguish the trail. Dad pointed out where it possibly led, but try as we might we could see no possible place for falls.

Dad said, “It’s been so dry, perhaps there are no falls right now.”

Never! I refused to accept defeat. I had hiked all this way and by golly, I was gonna look for some falls! (In addition to eating, I’m very good at being stubborn.)

Dad resolutely put down his pack and suggested I do the same. Due to living in Houston for several years, for the first 20 feet of the trail, I refused to leave my pack. Pictures of evil hikers running off with my pack filled my mind.

Dad shook his head. “People who come down here aren’t the type to be concerned with taking another hiker’s pack. Besides, they’d have to carry it all the way out.”

Fool am I. Who in their right mind would want to carry my pack out of the canyon? It was eight miles straight up to reach the North rim and still six before Phantom Ranch.

“Besides, if they need underwear that bad,” Dad continued as I placed my pack against a rock, “they can have mine.”

I left my pack. The others, thinking we were a bit crazy to head off into what was obviously nothing but desert dust, continued on the trail towards Phantom.

Dad and I had a bit of a false start when we almost went up the mountain, but we saw the trail just in time and went around a bluff and spotted a trickle of water. A few steps more behind a boulder, the falls came into view. I was so pleased! There it was, nestled behind the mountain, not more than a quarter mile or so off the trail. From closer up, I could see that climbing behind the falls was possible. This I did, with alacrity.

Then, much to my dismay, I discovered that I only had two pictures left in my camera. And where was the replacement film? You guessed it. Back in my lonely pack, waiting on the hillside.

“I must go back for it,” I insisted. “You can go on ahead. It’s not far back here, I’ll be in and out before you know it.”

But dad would hear none of it. Out we went, back in we traveled. I got my pictures and dad, well he got an extra mile walk out of it. But I had seen the falls.

My pleasure lasted until we reached the main trail. The falls had been a cool respite from the gathering heat. Dad is a fast hiker under ordinary circumstances; when he is trying to catch up to someone it is like being tied behind a vehicle going forty miles an hour. By the top of the first hill, he thought I was dying of heat stoke. Quite the contrary, it was lack of oxygen I was dying from, but it’s hard to explain that when you don’t have any.

We still hadn’t caught up to our party before I needed more moleskin and Gatorade. By this time, I had developed a special liking for Gatorade and had been wanting some for the better part of a mile. When we stopped, I nursed my feet, fed my thirst and on we went.

The valley was still heating up as the noonday sun reflected off the rocky slopes and cliff sides. I remember crossing stepping stones across a path that was almost hidden by cattails. There were other places where I think water should have been, but spring rains, if there had been any, had not been generous.

Dad looked constantly for animals up on the high slopes and reminded me to look backwards at the view we were leaving behind. The purple and green swallows that my husband had pointed out earlier were still with us, swooping around us whenever Bright Angel was close.

Box Canyon

The walls closed in slowly. At first, they were mountains to one side, rock slides that were interesting but not near neighbors. Gradually, I began to wish for my black and white film as I knew we were entering the narrowest part of the trail. The water was loud now, not fading in and out. The canyon walls bounced the sound back to us.

Dad found a roll of film, not yet exposed. We assumed it belonged to someone in our party and sure enough, within minutes, Craig was coming back to look for it. Dad didn’t mention that he’d found it (fathers have a bizarre sense of humor) until Craig explained why he was trotting back along the trail. Then he handed him the film with a wide grin, and I knew that he had considered letting Craig walk back further a ways, just for the fun of it.

We caught up to the others and rested a while. Our legs were getting tired and very sore. Dad guessed we had at least three miles to go, a fact that mom wasn’t pleased to hear. I finished the color roll and put in black and white film to try and store an elusive memory of the sheer rock walls on either side of us. It was hopeless, because the rushing water wouldn’t be there, the cliffs in the picture wouldn’t breathe with the hot wind that pulsed through the canyon, the smell of dust wouldn’t be captured and, alas, nothing could capture their size.

I thought the canyon would be peaceful and quiet and in its own way it was. It had a voice, of course; it is the locusts, the river that drums its way through the canyon, the birds and the wind. But the loudest sound of all was my breathing. It filled my every step and kept me from listening to that which I could not grasp. I could not leave myself behind no matter how far I walked.

The box canyon faded as gradually as it appeared. The walls were not as high, then further apart. The greenery of the river life began to appear and I began to hope that we were near. I saw the sign for Phantom Ranch and for some reason the last mile was the longest.

Bright Angel Creek beckoned and I wanted to jump in clothes and all. Sadly, I hadn’t left behind my civilized behavior just yet. We showered and then, only then, did I get to soak my feet in the wonderful, cool waters. The water pounded the backs of my calves in a massage that no modern whirlpool could deliver. The fish, apparently, were hungry enough to nibble on our toes.

Dinner was too far away. We made it down fourteen miles by two o’clock, but alas, the stew was not ready until six-thirty! By the time it arrived we were too hungry to complain. Part of the plan I wonder?

As night fell, we sat outside our cabin and watched the bats. Tiny flittering creatures, they flew far overhead above the cottonwoods. As evening deepened, larger cousins came out. These furry friends were not shy! My husband and I were perhaps two feet apart and the bats flew between our heads, landed in the nearby grass to gather some morsel or other and remained close enough that we could hear their soft wings constantly.

Before we retired to bed, I unpacked one small item that was in none of the books of advice. I know that the canyon should be quiet and the wind should lull me to sleep. It should be peaceful beyond imagining, but ah, reality. My little earplugs shut out these sounds–but they also protected me from the snoring of my companions!

The second day we had a grand hike planned to Clear Creek. Our aching legs told us in no uncertain terms that a nine-mile hike one way, was not going to happen. Instead, we performed what we–ahem—fondly called the Kaibab Shuffle. This walk resembles the fluted Indian figure, Kokopelli, only without the flute and not quite so happy looking. We were all leaning funny and lifting our legs very, very carefully, never quite straightening them because our calves were too sore.

We limped to the Colorado. It was the greenest river I had ever seen. Across the west suspension bridge we ventured, spotting golden finches and hummingbirds on the shore. From the north side of the Colorado, the South Kaibab trail appears to be imaginary, a mistake on the map. The cliff along the south side of the water is sheer; boulders look like huge appendages. There can be no trail.

Once across the bridge, to the east I could see the beginning of the South Kaibab trail, and I almost wished it didn’t exist. The wind was still blowing and from this angle, the trail was not friendly. To the west was Bright Angel Trail, the one we would take out of the canyon tomorrow.

Rafts came down the Colorado and stopped just past the other, east-most suspension bridge. We eagerly waited on the South Kaibab trail for them to continue. Sadly, they were motored rafts. We longed to see people paddle, to struggle against the great current, and pit themselves against nature.

We spotted a cave buried along the north shore as we crossed the east suspension bridge. A set of footprints in the sand told us that we were not the first to attempt to reach the cave. But like our own footprints, they stopped before the entrance was reached. The cave is sheltered behind prickly trees and impossible rocks. Whatever lives there is safe from us.

The beach along the Colorado was new, created by the controlled flooding of a few weeks past.

The Indian ruins captured our attention next. They were small rooms and the Indians must have been short to fit, lying down. Perhaps they slept outside and only curled up inside during poor weather. Looking at the ruins I wondered if they ever reached the height of a real building. Did people really live there? Or was it just a campsite or a house begun but never finished?

There was a grave nearby, not of an Indian, but of a man who spent his life in the canyon. How could any human have touched the canyon enough to remain, even after death? Did he really belong here?

Dinner that night held its own surprise. While eating, I got to meet someone that I had long admired; the author of the “Unofficial Grand Canyon” web page. I received the best advice and the answers to my endless questions from this web page. The official Grand Canyon page was late and empty by comparison. There he sat, Bob and his wife, turning the dinner conversation to places yet unseen. He mentioned that I might try my hand at a trip report (author note: an older version of this trip is also posted on Bob’s website.)

Writing about the canyon is difficult. I cannot mimic its magic and even as we spoke of it, I could feel the memories slipping away.

The next morning, not yet very bright but very early, we struggled from warm beds into a blustering, threatening day. We stuffed as much breakfast as possible into five o’clock stomachs that were not ready for food.

I headed off alone. The others weren’t quite ready; packing the last of the food, or stretching stiff muscles. I wanted a color picture from the suspension bridge and with rain in the clouds above, I didn’t want to waste a moment.

I sang quietly, laughing at myself because I knew that within an hour, I wouldn’t have breath to hum a single note. Nevertheless, I entertained until I reached the edge of the bridge. At that point, the wind and beauty took all my attention.

Taking a picture to the east was impossible. Tiny raindrops threatened to spoil my lens for the rest of the day should I try it. I focused quickly west, took two shots and raced to the other side, hoping the sheer cliffs would save me from the wind.

I was not alone much longer; my mother and father caught me before I ventured much further. Dad took the lead and I followed with mom. Dad was already carrying both his pack and mom’s. My mother walked with her trusty walking stick, one my dad had found for her the day before.

Following the Colorado was exhilarating and a fitting good-bye to the end of our stay. As we turned south, away from it for the last time, I looked back. There is no salute to such a body of water; it cares not for our emotions. The water that cascades down was gone before I could say good-bye anyway.

Posted: July 22, 2006
Filed in Hiking the Grand Canyon