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What a day! The toughest challenge I have experienced, August 2nd 2017 I walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back.
All the way from New Zealand to USA for first time. I was in USA to attend a conference in Birmingham, and I added this Grand Canyon adventure on. Following the conference I flew to Phoenix, hired a car and headed north for the Grand Canyon. Definitely a big deal for me. I loved the drive north through Sedona and Flagstaff arriving at the Grand Canyon Rim at around 3pm. The views of the Canyon from the rim are huge. After checking out the trail head where I would begin my descent I drove to Williams, a town on the famous route 66. I stayed in the old Grand Canyon Hotel on the main street. Here I was one night away from walking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, ready for an early start the next morning. Just after I got my head on the pillow a car alarm just outside my window went off and I’m sure it took forty minutes to get it turned off. This was not a great start to my epic adventure.
Three-thirty am and I’m up and driving 100kms from Williams to Grand Canyon village to get breakfast at Mac Donald’s including two double-shot expressos. The Mac Donald’s crew did well with the expresso. At the Grand Canyon village there are carparks and shuttle buses to the trail heads. I caught the 5.10am shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trail. This trail is 11.5km to Phantom Ranch, descends 1460 metres, and there’s no water available. It’s steep and the surface is broken up by the mule trains that use the trail. I had my 2 litre camelpak and two drink bottles making nearly four litres of water.
Down I go
I begin my descent at 5.20am, there are a few other people on the bus also planning to walk to the bottom and back. First stop 1.5kms down in Ooh Aah point, when I arrived there was a small crowd already there, I soon realised why. My timing was perfect, a minute after I arrived we were watching the sun rise over the north east rim of the canyon, and it was an ooh aah moment.
I hadn’t considered seeing the sun rise, my early start had been to get down the canyon in the cool of the morning.
The descent went well, I moved quickly often with big strides. The were plenty of steps, awesome views, it felt surreal. The deeper I descend the more the grandeur and sheer massiveness of the canyon arose around me. Passed a couple of groups who must have got away a bit earlier. And passed one guy walking up from the bottom after camping the night. But my most of the time I was alone on the trail.
A couple of km’s from the bottom I met a mule train heading up the trail. The tactics for passing mule-train are simple, get off the trail until they have passed. These mules were transiting a group who stayed the night at the bottom. Not long after the mule train experience I am at the bottom, it’s 8.05 am. A great start to the day, almost 11kms of trail covered in 2 hours and 45 minutes.
The access to the Black Suspension Bridge is a tunnel, you come out of the tunnel on to the bridge and across the Colorado River. I had imagined having a swim in the river, but it was brown and moving quickly so no swim. The trail meanders alongside the river for a few hundred metres arriving at the Bright Angel camp ground and the Phantom Ranch.
I was surprised at the size of the campground where campers were still packing up. At the Phantom ranch there is a shop and Ranger station, the shop didn’t sell much but lemonade. I bought a large lemonade and some post cards, wrote one each for my three oldest grand-children, and posted them from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Up up and up
After eating a banana, some peanut butter, and a muesli bar I’m ready to start my journey back to the top. Yes, I took peanut butter to snack on. It’s 9.20 am as I cross the Silver Suspension Bridge and head west along the Colorado River trail to where it meets the Bright Angel trail. The walk back to the top is 16 km’s climbing 1340 m, and it is hot. Right from the beginning of the ascent I feel weary. The trail turns from the river working its way up some gullies. Every step is hard going.
Finally at 11.50am I arrive at Indian gardens, my half way point. I am relieved. Indian Gardens has water, trees, a corral for mules, and a campground. I’m surprised at the number of people there. It’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in the shade. I found a bench in the shade, ate a bit, and lay down for the rest I deserved.
At 12.50pm after filling my water I begin the last 8 kms to the top. The canyon is quite open and the trail zig zags it’s way up, you can see people at different places along the trail. The closer to the top the more people on the trail.
I’m just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, it’s hard going. I am relieved when I arrive at the 3 mile hut, three miles from the top. I take my small towel and soak it in water and put it over my head under my hat to help keep cool. Those who know me will know I enjoy the heat, but this was too hot for me to be climbing out of a canyon, I wasn’t coping well.
For a while a gentle breeze was blowing from behind me, just bringing a little relief to the heat. I was thanking God for the breeze. At 2.30pm I sat in the shade on the side of the trail for a few minutes. It was hard to get going again, so I told myself no more stops until the top. There is now constant flow of people on the trail going both ways. For me its just short slow steps, but no stopping.
Then the moment comes, there’s the end of the trail just up ahead, one or two more zig zags to go, and I’m there. I finish at 4.12pm, just under 11 hours from when I departed.
Grand Canyon 0, Paul 1
Here I am after walking to the bottom and back, and I say to myself, Grand Canyon 0, Paul 1. From here I need to catch a shuttle bus back to the car park and drive back to Williams. Except I am not feeling well enough to drive. After about 40 minutes and a few moments of nausea I begin to feel better. For those thinking about dehydration, I’ve been continually sipping water. A huge day and a hard day, but I am 100% glad I did it.