My first Rim 2 Rim experience: September 25, 2010. This is how it will go down in the record books. Or at least in my record book. I'm writing it now while the details are fresh and before any fish stories have time to develop. My perspective might be different in a few weeks or months. So here we go...
This is our crew, plus one extra Chuck. Chuck is the guy on the far left. He's Billy Rowley's brother in law. The little older man peering through next him is some random grand canyon tourist, who coincidentally also happens to be named Chuck. When we told Chuck to turn around and smile, both Chucks obediently followed directions. We were cracking up.Next to Chuck 2 is Karalyn, Billy's sister and our driver for the weekend. Thanks so much, Karalyn. You were amazing! Then we have my cousin Karrie, Uncle Dale, cousin Luke, a fellow teacher at Stapley with Dale, Katie Vermillion (who I now count as good friend and practically family since we hiked the GC together), my cousin Matt, me, our good friend Billy Rowley, and Ryan. Nine hikers, one driver, and one extra Chuck. What a fun group we had. The drive up in the van was a blast, as was our Friday night pasta dinner at the North Rim lodge.
Ryan and I at the top of the North Rim lookout on Friday night. It was just breathtaking looking at the vast Canyon and thinking about the journey we had ahead of us.
Karrie, Matt & Dale on the North Rim Friday night, Dale's 64th Birthday. What a great tradition he started years ago, hiking the canyon for his birthday weekend. We were so excited to join the group this year. As we talked on the way up, Dale said that each year there are a few new faces in the group, and this year it was me, Ryan and Katie hiking the Canyon for the first time. Everyone else had been at least once before, and some many, many times.
We got up at 4:30 on Saturday morning, and started our hike at 5:45am. Karalyn took a picture of the whole group at the starting point, the North Kiabab Trail head, and I'm hoping to steal it off her blog as soon as she posts it. Luke took off as soon as the picture was taken and we never saw him again until the South Rim. This was Luke's 7th time doing the Rim to Rim, and he was talking about maybe attempting to beat his best time of 6:10 (which is completely insane). The rest of us started out pretty much together, but then paired off in smaller groups very quickly. This is the first picture we took on the hike. We'd been hiking for about 45 minutes or so and the sun was finally up. For the first 30 minutes, we were hiking with our headlamps in the cold and in the dark.Ryan and I both commented that the North Rim of the canyon looked much different than we what we expected. It was so much more green and lush with vegetation. I guess we're used to all the typical GC pictures of pure red rock cliffs. It was really beautiful.
The sign post labeled this waterfall Roaring Falls. I loved listening to the sound of the water as we hiked. It is one of nature's finest sounds. At this point, most of us had split up and were hiking in small groups of two, but we met up with Katie & Matt at the water stop right after this. From there and for the next several miles, Matt, Katie, Ryan and I hiked together. Because this was our first time on the trail, Matt was our unofficial "trail guide" - and a mighty fine one at that. He showed us the detour to Ribbon Falls, a spectacular waterfall off the main trail. It was so worth it to go see, and the picture below doesn't do it any justice. I'm not sure how tall it is, but I'd guess maybe 75 feet or so??
After hiking down from Ribbon Falls, you have to cross the river to get back onto the main trail. Being the good hiker that I am, I followed Matt's lead and took off my shoes and socks. I tucked my socks inside my shoes, and started accross, trying to follow Matt. Matt asked if I wanted to toss him my shoes, but I said, "Nah, I got it." Big Mistake. The river was flowing pretty good, and on my next step, I stepped on a slimy rock and lost my balance. In my weak attempt to save my shoes from the water (which was 100% unsuccessful), I nailed my shin and toe on a rock and proceeded to take a bath. I may or may not have let a harmless four letter word slip out as I quickly pulled my dripping shoes out of the water, but then again, no one will ever tell...what happens in the grand canyon, stays in the grand canyon :)
As I was lamenting about my shoes (I obviously didn't want to hike with wet feet), Ryan took a picture of my leg for posterity sake. Yep, it's gonna leave a mark. Thankfully, I followed Dale's pre-hike directions pretty well and brought extra socks, so at least I had a dry pair to put on inside my wet shoes. And they were double wall socks, so they stayed relatively dry, all things considered. But before I put them on, I added a little preemptive duct taping to my feet in hopes of heading off any potential blisters from the wetness. I was partially successful. The parts with no duct tape did not fare as well.
After spending about 45 minutes at Ribbon Falls and fixing up my feet, we took off and saw Dale & Karrie coming down the path. They were doing good and we all started treking again. One thing I especially admire about both Dale and his son, Matt, was that they said hello to every single person we passed. Every single one. And I'm certain we passed at least 1,000. Really. "Hello." "Morning." "How you guys doing?" That is such a great trait.
Just one of the many beautiful water spots along with the trail...
At Phanton Ranch, which is at the bottom of the canyon about 15 miles into the hike and at about 2600 feet (per our GPS watches), we stopped for lunch, an icy lemondade, and a little foot breather. When I took my shoes off, Ryan again thought that a picture of my highly professional blister treatment merited photo documentation. Sadly, on my left big toe (where there's no duct tape), you can see the blister brewing. After that, I taped them all up and I'm so glad I did. They didn't bother me at all the rest of the way, although that big toe blister was HUGE by the end of the trek.
When we got to Phantom Ranch, we'd been hiking about 5 hours and, per Ryan's GPS calculations, we were on pace to finish in about 8-ish hours. Ha ha ha...little did we know. Katie and I were talking about what a fantastic hike this was and that the weather was so amazing and beautiful. We were both saying that this seemed pretty easy compared to all the talk we'd been hearing on the way up. Yada, yada, yada. Ya...well, I guess when you're hiking in the cool early morning, with a breeze, in the shade, largely downhill, that newbees like us might make such foolish statements.
(Matt, Kelli & Ryan)
Crossing the bridge from the north to the south, over the Colorado River. It was so cool to see all the river rafters going down the river and remembering some incredible rafting trips from my youth. It made me excited to do that again someday.
Dale & Karrie caught up with us at Phantom Ranch again, and then we hiked together again for a bit after the bridge. It was right about here where all the fun really began...I think they called it the Sand Box. The path started slightly ascending and was much harder to traverse as it was all soft, brown sand. Add to that the lack of shade at the bottom of the canyon and the high temperature, and the hike hardness factor just kicked up a few notches.
Just keep swimming...Just keep swimming...
Dory from Nemo was stuck in my head.
I think Ryan took this picture right about then. Not my finest moment.
Thankfully, we finally saw the sign that said "Indian Gardens .3 miles."
I kicked it into high gear and walked with a vengeance toward my next milestone. I found it mildly amusing as I made my way into Indian Gardens to see so many fellow hikers strewn across benches, laying on the ground, finding any flat place they could to extend their legs and soak up some shade. I also felt so bad for some hikers who were clearly struggling as they approached. I watched as one dad carried 3 packs - his pack along with the two packs of his two teenage sons - as the boys both literaly limped along with their walking sticks. They did not look like they should have been on that hike.
Ryan and I were both doing pretty well, both appreciating strong lungs and hearts, but we were tired along with all of the other Indian Garden refugees. Ryan said his feet were on fire and that he felt like his shoes had shrunk. I'm sure they were swollen as his toes were pushing up against the end. I didn't really have any specific aches to complain of, just a sore toe and generally tired legs.
Ryan and I hiked together for a short bit after Indian Gardens, then I gave him a couple of Motrin for his sore feet, gave him a kiss, turned on my iPod and said I've got to keep hiking. It's kind of like running. You have to keep moving at your own pace or you get out of your groove. I just had to get out of the canyon. We met up one more time a few switchbacks later, and I asked him how he was doing. He smiled and said, "Just putting one foot in front of the other." No kiddin. At that point, every hiker I passed looked like they were doing the same thing.
(trail shot on the south side).
The last couple of miles seemed like an eternity, but the beauty of the ever-approaching cliff top kept me going, switch back after switch back. I stopped to rest a few times during that final climb, but mostly just kept pushing up and up. As I rounded one switchback with a little over a mile to go, I found our friend, Billy, taking a rest on the side of the trail. I was happy to see a familiar face, although he was struggling too. His legs were cramping up pretty bad, so he was taking short rests every couple of switchbacks. I offered him some nuts, but we both laughed since neither of us could bear the thought of eating another bite of trail mix or jerky or swigging another gulp of warm electrolyte drink. I almost tossed my cookies when I ate my last couple of warm gummy electrolyte chews. Seriously, I'm not sure I've ever swallowed anything so vile. But Billy was in decent spirts and said we were getting close. He rested a while more and I kept moving. Up and up...
Only a few minutes after that, I ran into Chuck, Billy's brother in law, coming back down the mountain to help Billy out. What a good man. I'm not sure you could have paid me enough to go back down after I made it to the top.
I made it out in 10:47, and was happily greeted by Luke (who finished in some crazy time like 8:10, Katie, who finished right around 10:00, and Karalyn, our driver). It was so awesome to be done! Ryan came up about 25 minutes behind me, and then Billy about 30 minutes behind him. We all went up to the ice cream shop and indulged in Dreyer's ice cream cones while we waited for the rest of our group.
Luke, me and Ryan at the top of the South Rim (end of the Bright Angel Trail). They say it's only 24 miles Rim to Rim, plus whatever the Ribbon Falls detour was (less than a mile I'm sure), but both my GPS and Ryan's GPS registered 26 miles and change (both within a tenth of mile of each other), so we're really not sure how far it was. Whatever it was, it was far. And we did it. We proudly joined the Rim 2 Rim Club, whose company we share with so many of my cousins and uncles and friends who have traversed many, many miles in the Great Grand Canyon. This was our first, but it won't be our last. As hard as it was, it was so worth it. I'll definitely do it again.
(the deer we saw by the car as we loaded our packs).
Probably my favorite part was waiting at the top for Matt, Karrie & Dale to surface. We could see them about a half mile or so down, and watched them traverse the final switchbacks on their way to the top. When Matt made it up, we all cheered, and then one of our crew said, "Matt, you're such a good son to stay back with your dad and make sure he made it out." He chuckled and said, "Ya, that's what we'll call it." We all cracked up.Then Dale & Karrie rounded the bend and we all let out huge cheer. They were all grins as we met them at the top of the Rim.
Dale threw away his hiking shoes and socks after the hike - really - and said he's officially done. This was his last year. He said that he's never been more excited than he was this year, that he'd never trained harder, never been more ready. And this was the hardest it's ever been for him. It took him 13+ hours. His said it's an omen that he needs to call it quits. But we didn't take him too seriously since he said he was done last year and the year before too. We told him that he couldn't quit at 64, that 65 was a nicer milestone to end on. We'll see. If this was, indeed, his last year, then I'm even more honored to have traversed this final Rim 2 Rim with him than ever. He's an inspiration!Here's our motley crew at the top of the South Rim. Happy,tired, and glad to be alive! What a great trip! Thanks for the memories!
(P.S. We showered up at that nearby campground after the hike, ate some quick dinner, and headed home at 9:00. We pulled into the driveway in Mesa at 12:45 am and crashed hard. Sunday morning greeted us with incredibly sore muscles. At church, you could tell who had hiked as we were all doing the GCS - "Grand Canyon Shuffle.")