20140221-064202.jpgALMOST TO THE BOTTOM OF GRAND CANYON

The deed is done. We are the champions!!

It’s Friday morning and we’re back at our home base (5th wheel) in Tucson. Mary is walking down steps backwards because her leg muscles set up like concrete in the night. I’m a little sore but not that bad. But Mary has a good excuse for her condition – she climbed 4400 ft over ten miles in five hours yesterday from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top. Which only goes to show that if blisters hadn’t plagued her on the PCT she had the strength and stamina to finish that hike.

She really impressed me. I had been prepared for a good bit of whining and frequent stops for her on the climb out of the canyon. I told myself I needed to appreciate the fact that she was even doing the hike and suppress my natural desire to give her a kick in the ass when she came on with the cry baby stuff. But she was a real trooper. We passed all kinds of people on the way out and nobody passed us. We only rested twice and kept up a good steady pace (an average speed of 2 MPH.)

The weather was sunny and cool which made for perfect hiking weather and there was no snow on the trail which was a real lucky break for us (we started at nearly 7000 ft.) We hiked down the South Kaibab Trail – a name, incidently, Mary had considerable trouble remembering. It issued from her lips on one occasion as the “Shish Kabob Trail.”

Another great thing about hiking this trail in February is the absence of crowds. I remember visiting in summer and the top of the trail was as crowded as the sidewalks in Times Square. We saw perhaps 25 people on the hike down and about 50 on the hike up. We also shared the trail with several strings of mules, their droppings and other emissions (see photo below.)

20140221-071311.jpgLOOK CAREFULLY
The addendum to this sign is strong evidence I have a kindred spirit out there. If he hadn’t scratched “gas” on this sign, I would have. Definitely my kind of humor.

The scenery, of course, was, well………The Grand Canyon! Need I say more?

My brother, Lars, who was going to accompany us had to back out because of a nasty cold he contracted.

The weather forecast had called for lows in the twenties so we were worried that we might spend the nights shivering at the bottom of our sleeping bags. The ground did freeze the night before we hiked at Mather Campground at the top of the Canyon but we were prepared with down bags and a down quilt for added warmth. At the Bright Angel Campground at the bottom the temp was quite mild. Wind was the only concern down there. The air currents in the canyon were perverse – 30 minutes of calm and then a few minutes of violent gusts. This pattern went on all afternoon into the evening. Several of our fellow campers had their tents overturned and a fine coating of grit settled over all our gear – both inside and outside the tent.

We were about to prepare our supper when a young woman from a neighboring campsite caught our attention. She was waving her arms and shouting to us in obvious distress. We couldn’t make out her words because of the wind so I hurried over, expecting perhaps a heart attack or a bear mauling. What I found was her tent crumpled against nearby bushes. She seemed on the verge of tears. Her tent, the wind, and the rocky ground all seemed to be conspiring against her and to make matters worse, she was due at dinner at the Phantom Ranch if five minutes! I managed to drive her tent stakes into the rocky ground after several aborted attempts and she was able to keep her dinner appointment.

For those less hardy and whose purse strings are not quite so tight as mine, there is an alternative to camping at the bottom. An assortment of rustic cabins called Phantom Ranch offers a roof over one’s head for a mere $150/night.

20140221-073829.jpgPHANTOM RANCH

Common sense would lead one to expect the hike out to be much harder than the hike in but that was definitely not the case (at least for us.) Apparently, the muscles required for slowing one’s descent are less practiced than those used for uphill propulsion. We passed several hikers near the bottom of the trail who were literally inching along, so sore were their legs. On the way out we hiked for a while with four young men who hiked at a good pace uphill. When we stopped for a rest at the half-way point, Indian Gardens, where they had to briefly descend, they walked like cripples! Different muscles.

But enough with the words. How about a few more photos, eh?

20140221-081204.jpgMARY STARTS UP THE BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL

20140221-081630.jpgDESCENDING SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL – see the hikers?

Nature was certainly glorious in the Grand Canyon but the comfort of our Dodge Ram’s heated leather seats had a different kind of glory waiting for us at the hike’s end. We were more than ready to sit on our butts for six hours on the long drive back to Tucson.

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