Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Grand Canyon "Rim To Rim" Part 3 (Hiking In)

Trail head,  North Kaibab Trail...4 am

It felt like I had slept for about 5 minutes, when one of my brothers gives me the “shoulder shake” to wake me up.  I had last checked my watch at about 1:25 am, hoping I would fall was now 3:30 am.  2 hours of sleep?   Ridiculous!

I splash some water on my face to shock myself into consciousness. I get dressed, gather my pack, brush my teeth and about this time I hear Dennis emit a sound that was between a shriek and a yell!  Seems our little chipmunk friend had taken up residence overnight in one of Dennis' shoes!   I had to laugh as I haven't put “unchecked” shoes on in the morning since my Army days.

Dennis is pissed. In general, Dennis is either happy or pissed. Right now...he is pissed.  Patrick?  He cant stop laughing!

Dennis tries throwing the shoe up in the air a bit, hoping when it lands, the little Chipmunk will scamper off.   Nope.  Still in the shoe.  He throws it higher...nope.... Seems a bit odd, as they are pretty skittish normally.  After about 5 more minutes of creative “shoe shaking”, Dennis pronounces the little Chipmunk deceased.   It appears the little creature literally curled up and died in his shoe!?

It is sad, and I am initially puzzled by the whole episode?!  However...we have a van to catch!!

We meet our driver and he drops us off at the trail head, which is pitch black.   There is a group of 4 ladies heading out right in front of us, and we decide to give them 10-15 minutes space before we start down the trail.

A short time later, we turn on our respective headlamp/flashlights and head down the trail.  While we make our way down the trail, I am struck by the sound of the steady wind rushing through the Aspen trees.  The sound is probably more pronounced given my sense of hearing is much better at this point, than my inability to see.  (Beyond the light cast by my headlamp)
We can see the trail immediately in front of ourselves, but not much more and it isn't long before we are walking steeply downhill.   I often find myself having to carefully look for my next foot placement as I encounter scattered steps cut into the trail and a less than even surface with each downward step.   We also discover that there are also plenty of rather sizable mule droppings to be avoided!

We continue down the steep, winding trail for about an hour or so, until the black, starlit sky, turns navy blue, allowing just enough light to give an immediate view of our surroundings.  As we move down into the Canyon, the sound of the wind gives way to the sound of a bird that I have never heard before!  I never catch sight of the bird, but I tried to capture its unique, morning greeting.

Bird Song

By this time, it is obvious to Patrick and I, that this steep descent is going to wreak havoc on our less than perfect knees.   I feel like “being careful” slows down the pace a bit, not that you can move that quickly down this stretch of trail anyway.  Whatever.  We round a corner, and find our first water point and a restroom at the “Supai Tunnel”.  The ladies that left before us, are just moving out. 

 We take in some water, replace what we have drank so far and are on our way.  We take the requisite photo of the Supai Tunnel and move on.  It was a nice 15 minute or so rest and we will not hit another water point until we hit the “Roaring Springs” Pump House checkpoint some 3 miles in front of us.

At this point we can see into the Canyon and see the floor.   It is still a long way down and the depth of this Canyon is starting to sink in with me.  We try to take a few photos, but it is virtually impossible to get a wide enough photo to do justice to the view we are able to take in with our eyes.  We stop at a point that looks directly across to a sheer wall about ¼ mile in height. I think it is a suitable place to check out the echo effect of the Canyon!  We yell a few things and hear the resulting 4 or 5 echoes.  Doing this is something I don't think any of us outgrow!  Dennis comments that the ladies ahead and below us are probably concerned about the idiots behind them!

We are making good time and after the first 4 miles or so, the downhill grade loses some of its steep angle.   It makes for a more comfortable walk/hike and before you know it we are nearing the Roaring Springs Pump House area.   It is still a ways off, and we can see the water gushing out of the Canyon wall/floor and hear the power of this Spring that literally provides water for the entire trail complex!.

We are able to see the trail and a foot bridge below us and I spot the 4 ladies that left before us.  They are about half a mile or so in front of us and probably 300 feet or so below us.  We cross the bridge and a half mile or so later, and shortly thereafter we are treated to a dramatic view.  

The trail is literally cut into and along the edge of the canyon walls for a good distance and makes for a hell of a view both down and across the canyon!

Look close, you can see the 4 ladies on the trail next to the cliff!

Some more downhill....and a couple miles later, we find ourselves at the Roaring Springs Rest House.  We greet the 4 ladies that are finishing up their break and learn that they are hiking the Rim To Rim as part of an annual Breast Cancer Awareness event that one of the gals started a couple years prior.  We chat for a minute or two and they depart as we water up and use the very new, clean restroom that is on site.  It is a very nice little Rest House/area, and I feel like I should have looked around a bit more, but we were focused on making decent time along the trail.

   The sun peeks over the top of a nearby cliff and it is starting to heat up a bit and while it is only a mile and a half to the next rest stop at Cottonwood Campground, it seems to take us a bit longer than I expected.   The downhill of this day's hike has started to take a toll on the old knee's and it shows a bit in our pace.

 When we arrive at the Cottonwood Campground, the heat of the day is upon us!  I do not remember the time, but at this point it is hot.  We take a break and get some water and make our way out towards Ribbon Falls.   Wearing a wide brimmed hat really helped keep the sun from baking one's face, but it became obvious that the heat would be a factor when it came to energy levels and pace etc.  My arms would be wet from sweating from this point on, which is OK, as I use that as an "indicator" of sorts.  If one is sweating in this heat, everything is working...if one stops obviously sweating...uh oh...means you are well into Heat Exhaustion. 


By the time we hit the Ribbon Falls it was about 95 degree's or so. (Likely hotter, but that is what I remember seeing when I checked)   Just after we arrived here, the 4 ladies were just exiting the trail that led down to the Falls.  We say hello again as they comment on how pretty the Falls were, as they headed back out on the main trail.

Our pace had started to slow down over the past mile or so and when Dennis said he was going to head down the ¼ mile trail to the Falls, Pat and I told him to enjoy the Falls...and we would wait for him to get back!  I figured that there would be significantly less water flow at the end of July, making for a less than spectacular view and I wanted to save the energy.

15 minutes later, as Pat and I sat in the sun...Dennis returned.   He appeared less tired than either of us in general, and we asked him if it was worth the ½ mile round trip.  He said, “nope”!  Oh well!

We headed out again and by this time the heat down in the Canyon was intense.  We were walking slower and the drain on one's energy was significant and unexpected.   The up side of being in the Canyon was that we had lost almost a miles worth of elevation, giving us more air to breathe.  A mile or so later, we found a small outcropping that provided a tiny bit of shade, so we took a break and drank some water. I commented on how it sure seemed like it was hotter than 95 degrees!  I discovered I had cell service as a few text messages from friends asking for updates had popped up on my cell phone.  I decided to reply to one of the texts, with a short video. ( I will try to edit out the bad language/convert the video and include it here later)

The cell service thing reminds me....I found myself using my cell phone camera almost exclusively at this point.  I had brought along my DSLR and a small tripod, thinking I could get the best quality pics possible by using the DSLR.  My energy level was such, that I simply did not want to stop, get the DSLR out of the pack and then shoot a pic or two and put it back!  I would discover that my cell phone cam was simply much too convenient to opt for the hassle of the DSLR.  I think all of the pics on this posting are cell phone cam pics!  I digress!

A mile or so on, we came to a spot where there was significant shade created by a large outcropping above the trail.  Under the outcropping were a guy and a gal, stripped down and wet from a recent dip into the nearby river/stream that ran along the trail.  We decided to break here and allowed ourselves quite a bit of time to dip our feet into the water, wet our shirts and relax in the welcome shade!

It was about this time, I think, that I sadly realized that I might not have picked up every Ibuprofen tablet the night prior...possibly contributing to the demise of our little Chipmunk friend:( Made me a bit sad, but I also couldn’t help but think that the Chipmunk could have eaten any number of things, from a dozen cabins, and just ended up in Dennis' shoe as a coincidence! Yep, I am going with that....and yeah, randomly popped into my head on the trail, thus randomly shared here!  I digress...again!

This stop was the last rest point for us before we would enter”The Box”.  The “Box” is described as a canyon with high, reddish walls in an area that gets direct sunlight from about 10 am until 4 pm.  It is HIGHLY recommended to avoid hiking this part of the trail during those hours as people have been seriously affected by heat exhaustion/stroke and have even died due to the “convection effect” of the sun heating the canyon walls and amplifying the heat along this stretch of trail.

The couple that was resting there asked us if we were going to head into the “Box”?  They went on to say that they were going to wait it out in the shade until after 4 or 5pm and then complete the hike to the Phantom Ranch.  Now, I know Pat and I were thinking...”that is not a bad idea”!  On the other hand, Dennis had made 3 reservations for a steak dinner at the Phantom ranch, at 5 pm.  I think it was about 2 pm in the afternoon at this point...and I knew that Dennis would NEVER forgo the dinner reservations!

In my mind I also thought, “the four gals in front of us had definitely hiked thru the ehhhh”!  We said goodbye to the couple and headed into the “Box”!   The heat in this part of the trail had to be experienced to be believed!  I mean it was HOT!  The heat slowed our pace a bit as it seemed to extract energy from you, even though the trail was pretty much level at this point!   I am not certain, but I think it took us about two hours to finish the last 2 - 2/12 miles...given the breaks we would take when we found shade.  I could not remember enduring this kind of heat...ever.

 In "The Box"

When we stumbled into the outskirts of the Phantom Ranch compound, we were elated!  15 miles, and the last 5 to 6 miles in the hottest part of the kicked my ass!  We had taken 10'ish hours to get to the Phantom Ranch, but this included a few longer than needed breaks, photo stops, sound recordings and the like.  All in all, not a bad day, but a very tiring one!

We checked out the bunk house we would be staying in, marveled at the A/C...and claimed our bunks.   I could have called it a day right there (Pat actually fell asleep in about 30 seconds) but I needed a shower and wanted to change out of my sweaty stuff.  After we all showered, we headed out into the compound and looked around a bit.   I had experienced some “toes getting jammed into” the front of my boots on the steepest downhill portion of the trail, and this caused a little discomfort as we walked around. ( yes I tied my laces tight/know about keeping my feet from sliding forward etc...don’t lecture me!)  The steepness of the trail likely does this to some extent to everyone, so I just kept it to myself.

We went into the Canteen and got a couple of cold drinks...with ice!!!   I cant tell you how good the iced tea and lemonade tasted...or maybe it was just that it was ice cold!  We went back to our bunks as we had about an hour to wait for dinner. I think I dozed off for about 45 minutes...

We readied ourselves for dinner and half walked, half limped over to the Canteen, where we waited for it to open back up for dinner.   We spoke with a Park Ranger while we waited and described the heat we experienced while trekking thru the “Box”.  I told her it sure felt hotter than the 95 degrees reported on the Weather Channel site I had consulted when I had cell service.  She laughed...and told us, “those numbers indicate the temps on the Rims”!   She went on to tell us, “when you hiked thru the “Box”, it would have been 30-35 degrees hotter...about 120+ degrees”.

My first thought was, I KNEW IT WAS HOTTER THAN 95!!!!!!  Then I was glad I hadn’t known, as it might have played havoc with my mind!!  Whatever!  The doors opened to the Canteen and in we went. We were served a fantastic steak dinner with all the fixins.  The steaks were huge...I would guess 24 oz steaks or more...and I had no problem finishing my steak!

Check out the water info on the board, for the South Kaibab Trail

We chatted with the people at our table and everyone shared where they were from etc. We were entertained and informed about the Phantom Ranch the very nice and knowledgeable employee that had also single handedly served all 40 of the guests dinner!  A few things I remembered were: 1. Hiking this trail was not “a race”...enjoy it, take your time...there is no trophy waiting for the person that finishes first!  2.   Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING at the Phantom Ranch, is brought in by mule or horse...and the trash is hauled out the same way!  It is difficult to describe the quaint, rugged beauty of the Phantom Ranch with words.  It is truly something one must experience in is a unique and amazing oasis deep in a Canyon that itself is both beautiful and foreboding.

After dinner, we said hello yet again to the 4 ladies we had shadowed along the trail that day.  They had opted to enjoy the steak dinner as we had.  Seems they had finished their hike less than an hour in front of us and had endured the same heat in the “Box”. (Those are some tough ladies!)   We introduced ourselves and after some talking learned that they were from....of all places...Michigan!?  Talk about a small world!   After a bit more talking, the world got smaller...turns out that one of the gals actually teaches at the same school that Pat's daughter attends!!  Now what are the odds of that happening!!????

Wendy, Tammy, Sharon and Karen  (The 4 ladies!)

I told them that I would be writing a blog post about this little adventure and I provided them with the name of the blog, should they want to check it out.  They told us they were staying at the Phantom Ranch the following day, and giving themselves a rest day. (Smart ladies!)  We said our good nights and headed off to our bunk house.  Dennis wanted to walk a bit to see the Colorado River, but even he was too tired to make the ½ mile trek!

We decided that we would want to start an hour earlier than we had planned for, to get a head start on the sun rising the next day.  So, it was decided that we would head out at 3 am....that meant getting up at 2:30 am.....uggghhhhhhhhh...when an I going to get some sleep!   We had all been operating on about 2-4 hours of sleep the last two nights! I half laughed to myself, and half cried! Haha

I reviewed a few of the cell phone cam pics I had taken, stuck my earplugs in (yep, more snoring men...bring earplugs if you do this!) and tried to get to sleep.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get to sleep!  Trust me, I was plenty tired, I just ended up laying there while everyone else around me slept and snored.   I think I faded about 11:30....yep, 3 hours of sleep! Ridiculous!

Tomorrow would come in the blink of an eye!

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