(I advised getting cool scarves before the descent, because you just never know how hot the canyon will be. I swear, not a double entendre. Anyway, my Mom - mistress of desert hiking - recommended that we soak them over night. We did and...woah were those scarves erect! It's amazing what you find hilarious at 3:45 in the morning as you get ready to get on a bus to get to a trail head to hike. Just, um, saying.)
(Incidentally, those cool scarves saved us. Weather reports had highs of 85. We ended up with highs of 107 around Devil's Corkscrew. Honestly, without the scarves, I suspect we'd both have been in far worse shape. Jokes aside, these things are magic. If you do desert hiking, BUY THEM!)
Anyway, we woke up at 3:45 am, the better to get on the 4:30 bus out to the trailhead. It was packed. Everyone wanting to do the same rim to river to rim hike as us was on it. This ended up being pretty cool, because we saw the same people constantly over the next 12 hours. (And we formed a kind of bond. People would look injured, and others would share mole skin, water, food, bandages, pain meds, whatever. It was like the sisterhood/brotherhood of the crazy.) Also, I got my picture taken at the South Kaibab trailhead with the full moon overhead. ^_^
(South Kaibab is purty, especially at sunrise.)
(More morning vistas)
Yeah, these landscapes alone are worth the hike. Seriously. The Grand Canyon is EPIC. Like, all purple all the time.
Yet another amazing ridge.
The sun rising over a peak.
The path ahead of us!
All these landmarks looked so distant from the top. Then we hiked to them, beyond them, and to where they seemed distant in the other direction. 20.5 miles in a day!
Me, perched on a rock on the way down. I'm still smiling, since I probably don't yet realize that I have 17.5 miles (plus a vertical one up) to go.
E is also enjoying his photo op.
Yet another lovely landscape.
I'd say that it all gets old after a while, but honestly, it didn't. It was like amazing vista after amazing vista for 14 hours. This is a lifetime experience worth having. Just saying.
Yeah, this place is pretty awesome.
Standing at yet another epic ridge line. Ho hum. I'd say after a point you get used to it, but you don't. It remains amazing forever. Seriously. It makes the hike easy.
Another dazzling backdrop with the rising sun.
As we headed down, we ran into people coming up from Phantom Ranch. One was taking lovely sunrise pictures and got one of me.
You burn approximately 5,000 Calories during a rim to river hike. E is having lunch #1 at about 8 am. :)
The constant changing of light and shadow both as the day progresses and as you descend the canyon is stunning.
It's actually MORE beautiful than this. The colors are more vivid, and range from brilliant scarlets and greens close up to faded blue, violet, and pink pastels in the distance (where the haze makes them fade). We were fortunate to get unseasonably clear days.
More light and shadow.
One of the fun things about the Grand Canyon is how the flora and fauna change as you descend. On the north rim, you pass through all six climatic zones found in North America. (You only go through five on the south rim.)
The shadows are dramatic.
Light, color, and RAINBOWS!
We made it to the Tonto Plateau, yet another climactic zone. We've only been traveling for 3 hours. 9 more wait ahead of us!
Sometime around 9, it also started heating up. (It got to a max temperature of 107 just about when we climbed Devil's Corkscrew.) This meant that all the sun gear came out - glasses, hat, and cooling scarf! Don't I look so epicly cool here? ^_^
As we descended, we passed through blooming cacti.
After maybe 3 hours of hiking, we reached the river and the first (black/mule/kaibab) bridge. I was lucky enough to spot the mules going across. These hearty animals not only take tourists down and back, they also carry in all food + out all garbage + mail. ^_^ (So if you got a postcard from me, it arrived by way of one of these rabbit-eared animals.)
The Colorado river from the Kaibab trail, with a view of the silver/Bright Angel bridge. We're getting close to the river part of the rim to river to rim trail!!!!
Once we reached the black bridge, we did some silly posing.
Crossing the bridge! We shall soon be across the mighty Colorado!!!!
Along the river, we passed rafters, ancient Puebloan ruins, and some lovely wildlife. It was also, blessedly, flat.
After a bit of hiking, we reached our first source of (purified) fresh water - Bright Angel campground, complete with a caretaker's hut done in a lovely architectural style.
Then a half mile later we made it to Phantom Ranch. There are a number of things that are super exciting about Phantom Ranch.
1. You can buy cool lemonade with ice. Real ICE! ICE! (Trust me, after hiking in 90 degree weather, this is a blessing the like of which is rarely seen.)
2. You can sit INDOORS, in the SHADE, with FANS! (Again, after the hiking, this is a miracle.)
3. There are FLUSH toilets with SINKS with SOAP and RUNNING WATER. (Honestly, it's amazing how amazing minor conveniences are after 4.5 hours of pit toilets with no water.)
It's like this miraculous land of amazing miracles. It also has food, board games, electricity, and ranger talks. It's like this peculiar spot of civilization far removed from anything else that even vaguely resembles civilization.
Phantom Ranch, luxurious world of flush toilets!
Inside Phantom Ranch is a little saddle pouch that you can put letters in to be carried to the top. They're then stamped with, "Mailed by Mule from the Bottom of the Grand Canyon" and "Sent from Phantom Ranch". So awesome. I dumped quite a few in there. Yay for lightening my load!
Anyway, after mailing letters, picking up souvenirs, and drinking lemonade, we debated. It was only a bit after 10. We could try for Indian Gardens and do our big rest there, or stick around until 2-3. We decided to press on, since that way we'd get a nice long break with only four miles to go...
We stopped for water at Bright Angel campground (at my insistence. E wanted to refill at Phantom Ranch but, c'mon dude, an extra half mile with lighter packs IS SO WORTH IT I CAN'T EVEN!!!!!!) Along the way we saw some pretty lizards. E claimed they were special, vegetarian lizards native only to these parts, but I have no idea.
We eventually crossed Bright Angel/silver bridge then hit a very lovely view point where I could see BOTH bridges. Somewhere along the way, I ran into a bush that slashed up my nose. But we continued bravely. Or stupidly.
The Colorado river from yet another lovely view point.
After we left the river, everything went desert. Also, without the river breeze, temperatures climbed from the 85 we were expecting to 107 F. Ooph!
Then, after a bit of hiking along the flat, we got to the Devil's Corkscrew - 1,000 vertical feet with about a mile of length. FUN TIMES! (Esp. in 107 F heat.)
After some severe climbing, we came to the glorious rest stop that is Indian Gardens. (Seriously, the place looks like an elven home in the forbidding desert. It's all the more so when you're like, "WATER AND SHADE AFTER 12 MILES OF HIKING IN THE BLAZING HEAT!!!!")
In case you're wondering, the parks department really didn't approve of what we were doing, either, and had many signs out to warn us about just how stupid we were being.
Indian Gardens really is a paradise in the desert - a natural spring that allows a vast amount of greenery. (Added to it are camp sites, treated water, a pump house, and picnic tables!)
Once getting there E, wanted to rest (as was exhausted). I debated hanging around for the two to three hours it would take to cool down, but then heard that the hike out to the plateau was only three miles..and flat...and while a bit hot, not that bad. Hey, I'm easily persuaded!
The hike to Plateau Point was truly lovely. The desert was in full bloom, littered in pink and golden blossoms.
Being there was pretty amazing, too, with grand sweeping views of the Colorado.
(Ho, hum, another amazing vista.)
Anyway, I returned to find Erik awake. Apparently a squirrel had attacked our packs. He fended off mine, but it got into his, ripping out a chunk plus taking his trail mix. Nasty thing. He also saw a number of warnings for bubonic plague. Well, I've told people that I hate squirrels...
We packed up (with me dangling my feet in the ice cold river - ah, bliss), refilled water, and started the worst part of the hike - the last 4.5 miles with over 3,000 feet in gain.
We made it up to three mile hut (2,000 vertical feet to go) just to find a heart left in stones. Apparently someone had proposed there. I have to hope they were both hikers. This is where I first started to feel it and took out my jelly bellies. (Also, a few miles before, E took my hiking poles. You could see other groups were either going at it well or having trouble. One guy was still perky with several backpacks, while others in his group were faltering. I felt not so bad, but definitely hit the point of not being super excited about walking up hill with over 10 lbs. of weight. With that said, 3 miles from the top made me unwilling to drop any water, either.)
Along a ridge, there were also a series of stone stacks. No idea why.
As we hit 1.5 mile hut, people started dumping water (including me - losing a pound at this point was like heaven). But everyone offered extra water to anyone who didn't have it, which was sweet. Really, it was amazing how well everyone bonded. You needed food, moleskin, bandaids, drugs, water, whatever, someone would try to help it. We're all in this together! You could see people getting tired (E didn't even bother the dozen or so steps to get into the hut. He just sat at the bottom.) But the sun was sinking. We had food and energy left. We had over a liter of water. At this point, I knew it was doable!!!!
Amusingly, when we ascended, someone was asking about his friends (people we'd run into off and on since we got off the bus at around 5 am in the morning). We told him they were right behind us, which made him super happy. Also, we had a plan to drink margaritas that night, so I was HAPPY!
The sun setting over the rim. We made it before we resorted to lights. Also, the sun set is freaking amazing. Really, everything here was. It's am amazing location.