Looking back the way I had come from Phantom Ranch

July 2014 Grand Canyon : Rim to River and Back in One Day

I am writing this account of my adventure mostly for my own sake. I know others may find enjoyment or some other benefit from it as well, so I am sharing it.

Disclaimer:
I want to say up front that I do not encourage doing the hike I am documenting here. Yes, it is a doable hike. However, your best bet is to listen to the National Park Service, who will try to convince you not to do it. Many others who have also completed this hike in one day will say the same as well. I am not documenting my preparation for this, but it includes massive amounts of research, training, and getting the proper supplies. You should have a very comfortable knowledge of many sides of the Grand Canyon going into this, ranging from the geology, history, ecology, etc. to the many ways that people DO die–there are many ways. Just a week before I did this adventure, a man from Ohio died hiking out of the Grand Canyon with three other people. It can be very dangerous.

With that said, here is the account of my adventure:


The Backstory
The story begins in 2013, believe it or not. On the second day of a 2 week road trip, I woke early in my hotel room and left immediately, headed for the Grand Canyon. I had never seen it before, but figured that I would take just an hour or two to gaze upon it. Arriving well before any large rush of people that day, I ended up finding myself spending half of the entire day, walking along the Rim Trail on the south rim. I took countless pictures of the canyon, noticing the Bright Angel Trailhead on the way. At that time, I planted the thought that I would love to hike that trail some day, but just didn’t have the time to truly explore it that time. Already spending well more time than I meant to there, and planning to get to Denver yet that night (which never happened, as my car broke down around Grand Junction), I left knowing that I would be back. I didn’t know when at that time, but I knew I had to come back. I just had to.

Since that time, I had gotten largely into working out and hiking around my home in North County San Diego. I found many rewarding hikes in the area, and was doing a hike every weekend for some time. However, after a series of unfortunate events, I had stopped for some time.

Looking to start picking it back up again, I started working out again, and I ended up getting rhabdomyolysis from the first leg day upon my return. I ended up in the ER, being treated by an “old” friend of mine that I used to work under when I was a scribe. After a couple bags of IV fluid, I was sent home to drink lots of fluid and rest. For the following week, I was incapable of moving off my couch. Any time I did, it seemed that I was in terrible pain, and even just lying in my couch in the wrong way would bring unbearable pain at times. As I recovered from that, I slowly began doing some stretches and eventually did start some light exercises.

The Beginning
Then the thought came. Only a few months after the incident with the rhabodmyolysis, Adventure was calling my name again. It’s something I’ve never been very good at explaining, how Adventure just calls me. But when it calls, it’s nearly impossible not to listen. It seems any time I try to ignore it, its calls just grow bigger and louder, and eventually I feel the overwhelming need to do my greatest adventure yet. This time, the adventure was clear: Hike into the Grand Canyon.

This was one month ago, now. Far sooner than anyone should start planning for a hike into the Grand Canyon–backcountry permits are given out like the lottery 4 months in advance (only a percentage of applicants for permits are given one every year, because they are in such high demand), and reservations at Phantom Ranch fill up 12-18 months in advance!

However, it began as a simple plan: Hike down the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens and back. Among the most difficult “day hikes” that the National Park Service suggests at the Grand Canyon. In fact, in the summer months, they are explicit about this being the furthest and meant for experienced hikers. I figured, what the hell, I’m going to do it, and started preparations. I got time off of work, a campsite reserved at Mather Campground, and began buying supplies and training.

As I continued thinking about it, I began to think, “I’m going to regret not going to at least Plateau Point!” Plateau Point being the first point on the Bright Angel Trail that you can actually look down to the River (still not descending into the Inner Gorge), 1.5 miles further after Indian Gardens. This quickly evolved into “I’m going to regret not going to the river/Phantom Ranch!” As this evolved, the plan shifted: Hike down the South Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch, where I would turn back and go up the Bright Angel trail. This plan became locked, and is what I did.

And then the time finally came…

Thursday, July 17
After a last night out with friends and having already prepared everything I meant to have for the Grand Canyon, I stayed up late to push in the last pieces of my work for the week. I took Friday off, but I wanted to make sure I got ample sleep for a night-time road trip. I stayed up all night finishing up different things for work and putting together my last pieces for the adventure that lied ahead. By 3pm, I was headed to bed. I slept terribly, finally giving up at 10:30pm. I put everything for the adventure together and packed it in my car. I was on the road by midnight. I was still in somewhat of a daze from the terrible “night” of sleep, but I was overwhelmed by the anxiety and fear of knowing the adventure was beginning. This was happening. It felt so surreal. But there I was. Finally, after all of my preparation.

Realizing that I had forgotten to plan anything to eat for “breakfast” before driving out, I quickly stopped by Albertacos and got a chorizo burrito. Delicious and certainly hit the spot for me. I’m still wondering if that might have been a terrible option, though!

Friday, July 18
Starting driving at midnight sounded like a wonderful idea, especially given that I wanted to start the hike at 2am the following day. Mess up my sleep schedule and have an easier drive on the way there. I did have an easier drive; except for a required detour off of the freeway through Manifee due to construction, confusing my GPS navigation to no end, the roads were easy and empty. Listening to music was wonderful at first, as I listened to Anathema and Bloc Party. I eventually put on the obligatory The Wall by Pink Floyd; what’s a road trip without that?! After that, the drab of black and the poor sleep was getting to me. I began to stop a bit more frequently just to walk around and bore me less. No wonder I always did my road trips in the day! As the sun came up, however, I was praising it for its light to look at the sights I was passing by–nothing new to me, but more interesting than the void of night.

Ominous point: Somehow, I had failed in my attempts for the last month to quit smoking (again), and ended up having a pack of cigarettes in the car (what the hell?!). I was smoking my whole way there, having 2 cigarettes in the park before the pack was gone. Perhaps this added to some of what was to come…

 

Looking down at Phantom Ranch from the South Rim, near Mather Point
Looking down at Phantom Ranch from the South Rim, near Mather Point

I finally arrived at the Grand Canyon at 9am, and parked immediately in the first parking lot in the park. After sending a quick text to my father to let him know that I had made the drive safely, I took a light stroll along the south rim, near Mather Point. From here, I could see Phantom Ranch, which was set to be my furthest destination on the following day’s hike. It looked far, but I was also surprised how close it looked to me this day. Perhaps all of my time hiking up mountains around San Diego had given me a clearer perspective than when I had visited a year ago, I thought.

Camera's max zoom, looking down at Phantom Ranch from Mather Point
Camera’s max zoom, looking down at Phantom Ranch from Mather Point

From this point, I eventually went back and checked into the campground, and setup my camp. Planning to get to sleep pretty early, I decide to go walking around the rim some more. Unlike when I had been here a year before, this time, I was able to witness several Elk, Mule Deer, and other wild animals as I walked along the forest and rims. Seeing the differences from just a year ago was also impressive. Although I actually noticed many differences, it was amazing to see how the drought was affecting the Grand Canyon area as well.

Hanging out at Camp
Hanging out at Camp

Grass that was lush and green the year before had died, leaving a brown, dirty ground behind, and much of the ecosystem was hurting because of it. A fire was burning on the North Rim for some time–I was able to see the smoke from it still–and a new fire had started to the East of where I was on the South Rim–which had smoke clearly visible looking to the east.

After walking about for a bit, I headed back to camp and was in bed by 4pm.

Walking on the Greenway through the Forest the day before the hike
Walking on the Greenway through the Forest the day before the hike
Elk along the South Rim
Elk along the South Rim

Saturday, July 19
I woke at 12:30am. Another absolutely shitty “night” of sleep, I kept waking up and just couldn’t get any decent sleep in me. But it was the day of the hike, so I had to get up and go! I had thought that I had an energy drink, but it turned out I was wrong, there. No energy drink. Thankfully, I had bought some Nuun Energy tablets, containing caffeine and such to make an energy drink out of water; it didn’t seem as effective as the energy drinks I was used to, but I figured that it would do and chugged down a good sized bottle of it with breakfast. I then packed up my pack, filled up all of my 5L water, locked my car, and headed out from the campsite at 2am.

Getting to South Kaibab Trail
The Tusayan Greenway ran right through my campsite, connecting to the visitor center, and this was the plan to start the hike. However, I found that there was a turnoff leading directly to the South Kaibab Trailhead, where I would start the real hiking down the canyon, allowing me to bypass the Visitor Center and get to the trailhead a little more directly. The entire walk among the greenway was awesome, as I heard wildlife moving about in the shadows, just out of sight of my headlamp. I still can’t be real sure what any of it was, but with the wildlife surrounding me, and the stars above me so beautifully, I was comfortable.

Starting the South Kaibab
I arrived at the trailhead at 3:30am, and headed on down. From the very start of the trail, it was 3 things: 1. Steep. 2. Terrifying. 3. Beautiful. Despite stopping constantly to look around at the cliffs to either side of me, whether up the sheer cliff I had just recently been standing above, or down into the blackness that I couldn’t see a bottom to, I was amazed at how fast I was traveling down into the canyon. They say that if the trails were as narrow as you would describe them after being on them, no living creature could go down them and live to tell about it. That’s pretty much true. You feel like they are remarkably narrow, with terrifyingly massive drops, at points on both sides of you. In reality, they’re not so bad, though.

I remember looking down at the ground, and the cliffs beside me, all the way from the beginning of the trail, and noticing how much the rocks changed. Along the south rim there is the “Trail of Time”, which takes you through the several different layers of rock in the Grand Canyon for an easy day hike. However, actually hiking down into the canyon itself, you also see the exact same thing. Not so nicely labeled, but you are walking among and directly on the different layers. It was truly amazing to really see it and think about.

Cedar Ridge

Taking in the sights at Cedar Ridge
Taking in the sights at Cedar Ridge

As I hit Cedar Ridge at 4:30am, a small amount of light had begun to rise on the horizon. Cedar Ridge itself is an absolutely gorgeous ridge before heading down to O’Neill Butte. The view at Cedar Ridge was breathtaking, even in mostly dark, dim light of pre-dawn. Somewhere in this time, I noticed that the terrible sleep was already getting to me. I was hoping the sunrise would help lift my eyelids a bit more and I would be feeling better soon. However, I had already drank my whole 1L canteen of Nuun-supplemented water, and figured that if terrible sleep was my only concern for the hike, I was doing good! So I kept trekking on!

Around O’Neill Butte

Looking back towards Mather Point from near O'Neill Butte
Looking back towards Mather Point from near O’Neill Butte

As I hiked around the O’Neill Butte, I couldn’t help but to keep stopping. Whether to watch the sun rise slowly over the horizon, or stare at the amazing 360 degree view that changed with every step forward I took. There were multiple little areas to stop and sit, and I found myself doing so slowly. At 5:20am, I was still just on the underside of the butte, gazing at the sunrise over the canyon in absolute amazement. The colors of the sky, ground, and vegetation all blended together to make the entire thing amazing. It was also around this time that I saw my first of many Mule Trains. This one was a train of pack mules, carrying supplies down to the ranger station and Phantom Ranch. It was clear that they would make it there long before me at the rate I was taking!
Looking back towards Mather Point from near O’Neill Butte

Sunrise from near O'Neill Butte
Sunrise from near O’Neill Butte

Skeleton Point

Looking back at O'Neill Butte, Yaki Point, and Mather Point from Skeleton Point
Looking back at O’Neill Butte, Yaki Point, and Mather Point from Skeleton Point

Another 30 minutes, at 5:50am, I reached the Skeleton Point. This is the last turn-off that the National Park Service suggests for those wishing to do simple day hikes on the South Kaibab trail. As I reached this point, temperatures were already getting into the lower 80s, and I was able to ditch the headlamp in place of sunglasses. The views from this point, looking back towards O’Neill Butte, Mather and Yavapai Points, and Yaki Point, and also looking forward and in every other direction… I felt forced to just sit and stare for a particularly extended amount of time.

Looking forward from Skeleton Point as the sun peaked over the canyon horizo
Looking forward from Skeleton Point as the sun peaked over the canyon horizo

Up through Skeleton Point, I kept telling myself that I could turn around. I didn’t have to do this. It’s just a silly hike, after all. I don’t think I ever took those thoughts seriously from the start, because my reply to myself was simply, “Nope. I’m determined to do this! I got this!” I never truly entertained the thought of turning back, and after Skeleton Point, the thought disappeared.

Looking around at Skeleton Point
Looking around at Skeleton Point

As I headed down from Skeleton Point, I began running into the first people that I would see for the day. A small handful of people had been working their way up from the bottom, having camped there the night before. Many looked to be tired and in bad shape, but I didn’t find significant reason to worry for them. Though it was heating up, they all had fluid, and seemed to be playing it safe, going a steady pace. Some were resting in the little pieces of shade they could find in the morning, before the sun came up and drowned it all out.

The Tip Off

From the Tip Off, looking back up towards Skeleton Point and Yaki Point. O'Neill Butte is blocked by Skeleton Point.
From the Tip Off, looking back up towards Skeleton Point and Yaki Point. O’Neill Butte is blocked by Skeleton Point.

Just before the South Kaibab begins descending down into the Inner Gorge, there was a small stop, nicely called “The Tip Off”. At 6:45am, I was excited to find a bathroom, because I had clearly been drinking too much of my fluids. After stopping at the bathroom, I noticed the temperature was already reaching towards 90 degrees. It was getting hot, and it was only going to get hotter as the day went on. I took a minute to gaze back at the hike I had finished so far and what I could see of what was yet to come before heading down. My last thought that I could follow the Tonto Trail to Indian Gardens instead of going to Phantom Ranch came and went almost unnoticed by me. I don’t think I ever gave actually going off course a serious thought.

From the Tip Off, looking toward Yavapai Point and beyond
From the Tip Off, looking toward Yavapai Point and beyond
The bathroom I was so happy to see at the Tip Off point.
The bathroom I was so happy to see at the Tip Off point.
Temp was reaching near 90 at the Tip Off point
Temp was reaching near 90 at the Tip Off point

Before heading down to the Inner Gorge, I noticed that my sun gloves on the right hand seemed to be a little too tight. I loosened them and began heading down. It was also around this point that I started developing pretty bad gas as I was hiking. I was actually somewhat happy to be hiking alone at this point, just because I could fart without bothering anyone else! I figured it must have been a mix of my body not entirely agreeing with the food I had been eating the last couple of days–probably that chorizo burrito!–and the lack of decent sleep. I kept trekking, but was definitely feeling my body complaining in many ways now. I kept my spirit high, gazing at the beauty surrounding me in every direction and listening to the wonderfully isolated quiet of nature.

The way down the Inner Gorge on the South Kaibab is equally as beautiful as everything leading up to it. There’s not really any formal stops at that point, until reaching the river, so I found myself stepping to the side of the trail to just stare at everything around me. Had I put my camera in a more accessible location, I would have taken many pictures, but alas, I never took the time to take out my camera. What I can say is that looking at the Inner Gorge from the rim is nothing like it is down in there. It is particularly beautiful, with layers of different rock and different kinds of vegetation growing at different spots. It is truly gorgeous, and can only really be experienced to understand.

Another mule train with passengers had started to head up the trail as I reached the tunnel before Black Bridge, giving me a nice chance to stop on the side and stare at the canyon. The leader asked if I was having a good hike, which I was, and was very friendly as they passed by. I then ducked into the tunnel, which I could not see the ground or the end of; I had forgotten I was wearing sunglasses, so that is probably part of the reason there. When the light came, I was staring straight out onto Black Bridge.

Crossing Black Bridge, I came across multiple other hikers on their way up. One commented that I had started the day very early–part of me doubted that he was thinking 2am early! Crossing over the bridge, I was able to look down at the Colorado River. It was clear that the “strong current” they talk about isn’t a joke: although there were no rapids on that section, the current was visibly strong.

Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground

Looking back the way I had come from Phantom Ranch
Looking back the way I had come from Phantom Ranch

Finally, after crossing Black Bridge, it was just a small, short hike to Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch. I arrived at 8:00am to the wonderful little treasure. I ate lunch, enjoying the oasis I had come to. Looking around, I looked back to the South Rim. Only small parts of it were visible from the right spots; otherwise, I was staring at the buttes and ridges below the rim. I walked up to the Phantom Ranch Canteen, but decided that I didn’t really care to stop in.

Looking North near Phantom Ranch. The actual rim blocked from view by the walls of the Inner Gorge itself.
Looking North near Phantom Ranch. The actual rim blocked from view by the walls of the Inner Gorge itself.

Besides, I suddenly had a very painful need to find the closest bathroom. Worried that I had suddenly developed diarrhea–you know, that painful really need to let go of some sickly diarrhea feel!–I ran as fast as I could, searching for the bathroom in Bright Angel Campground. I was surprised to make it in time, and more surprised to find that it was just a normal poop, just in a very large amount. Sitting on the toilet, realizing I wasn’t about to be in very bad shape, I started laughing hysterically. I think this was the happiest shit I’ve ever taken, and one that is going to stick in my memory. Who knew hiking the Grand Canyon would result in a glorifying taking a shit story?!

Mule Deer spotted near the watering station at Bright Angel Campground
Mule Deer spotted near the watering station at Bright Angel Campground

Satisfied, especially with the thought that I was probably a bit lighter on my feet now, I began preparations for heading back up on the Bright Angel Trail. I walked down to the river, dipped all of my clothes and bandanas in the water, and put everything back on. Filling up on water, there was a small group of mule deer hanging out, grabbing breakfast in the shade.

At this point, I noticed that I had a lot of pain on the palm of my right hand. I took off my sun gloves to find that I had developed a large blister right on the palm of my right hand. I believe that when I loosened the glove on the right hand, I loosened it too much, resulting in increased friction from the bands of my trekking poles. I changed to my backup pair of sun gloves, which were still dry, and decided I’d rather them be a little too tight, so erred on the side of tight. Nonetheless, the rest of the hike would include me fidgeting for comfort over the blister on the palm of my right hand.

River Trail, River Resthouse, and Devil’s Corkscrew
After filling up on water and getting soaked down, I headed to the Silver Bridge to cross back over the Colorado River. This bridge felt somehow scarier to walk on than the Black Bridge. I’m not entirely sure why, except that it was just a metal grate to walk on, whereas the Black Bridge, you were walking on a more solid wood floor. Nonetheless, I made it across and jumped onto the section of the River Trail that overlaps the Bright Angel Trail. To my surprise, this was the first time that the consistency of the ground changed so significantly. Prior to this, there had been times of rocks and dirt to walk on, but all were pretty normal trails to me. At this point, it was like walking on a sandy beach for the entire section of the trail. Already feeling my muscles from the way down, this was the most annoying section of the entire hike for me, as far as trail conditions go. I was wishing for the return of fresh mule shit over the beach-like sand of the river trail.

I reached the River Resthouse at about 10am, 30 minutes after leaving Bright Angel Campground, thanks to more taking it slow and gazing at the canyon around me. To get to the actual resthouse, I had to cross a creek, proving to get my feet soaked in the process. Nonetheless, I had forgotten to change my socks back at Phantom Ranch, so I didn’t mind and went ahead to change my socks here. Fresh socks and refreshing from the annoyingly sandy trail, I crossed back over the creek, pole-vaulting over with my trekking poles to avoid getting wet again, and started working my way up the side canyon carved out by the creek. After a few more crossings of the same creek, I came to the Devil’s Corkscrew.

In all of my research and preparation, the Devil’s Corkscrew was often referred to as the “death zone”, the most dangerous part to be in at the wrong time of day. The rocks were dark red to black, capturing the sun’s rays and throwing them back in the form of heat. I took my time, keeping myself cooled down as much as possible in the heat that had gotten into the 90s, and enjoyed the continuing beauty around me.

At one point on my ascent of the corkscrew, a mule train came down carrying a decently sized group of people to Phantom Ranch. As I waited for them to pass, three of the mules decided this was the perfect time to piss all over the trail. One of the passengers made a comment that she felt bad for me having to walk through it, but I just shrugged and proclaimed that I had been walking through it all day already. I really had, and at this point, I was more thankful for the excuse to sit and chat momentarily with the passengers as the mules stopped to do their thing on the trail. I had walked through enough shit and piss from the mules that it actually wouldn’t have phased me had the passengers not pointed it out!

It was also on my ascent up the Devil’s Corkscrew that I began seeing people that left me scratching my head. People carrying nothing but a water bottle, asking how far the river was from there. None of them ever caught up to me again, so they either took their time at the river (they didn’t look to be in condition to camp down there, but who knows?), or ended up going up quite slow themselves–hopefully more for enjoyment than heat illness! This pattern of “How far is the river from here?” didn’t end for the rest of the day. It was really quite amazing how many people seemed to think that it would probably be a simple hike, not realizing it would take over 20 miles and upwards of 10,000ft of elevation change.

After the Devil’s Corkscrew, the trail began following the creek again, winding through a wonderful little oasis, with plenty of shade and beautiful scenery. Several groups of people had pulled off to the side of the trail and were enjoying the area. I was tempted to as well, but decided to push it to Indian Gardens. I was itching to fill up a water bottle with some caffeine and get a good long rest.

Indian Gardens

View from my bench at Indian Gardens
View from my bench at Indian Gardens

At noon, I reached the Indian Gardens campground. There was a nice day-use area, complete with benches and a water station. Squirrels were everywhere, and everyone was having to shoo them away from their bags. Of course, there were several signs talking about how these squirrels carried fleas that carried the plague. Wonderful. I just kept pushing them away as I spent an hour relaxing, drinking some Nuun Energy I mixed together, and grabbing a bite to eat. At this point, I ran into several other hikers, most of whom were hiking just to Indian Gardens and back. Some had spent the night near the river and were on their way back, taking a break as I was. Indian Gardens was a beautiful little oasis, which I was very happy to spend a decent amount of time at.

Another view at Indian Gardens, looking up.
Another view at Indian Gardens, looking up.

The comradery among everyone was great; we were all on an amazing, beautiful adventure in the canyon. There was some bitching about some of the idiots we encountered along the way, many of us hoping that those we saw wouldn’t die in the canyon that day. Overall, though, we were all cheering each other on, sharing our stories within in canyon. Everyone had a different story, and those who this was not their first time were quick to say that every time was different from the last. One guy, who I will call Orange Guy, because he was wearing almost entirely bright orange, was discussing how hiking the Grand Canyon had become something of an addiction for him. I can’t blame him!

Looking forward from Indian Gardens
Looking forward from Indian Gardens

As I left Indian Gardens, the temperatures had peaked over 100 degrees. Having too much momentum behind me, I decided to keep going, just taking it slowly. There were some workers along the trail, improving different portions of the trail, as I went. Gave a quick hello and found it nice to know that anyone having trouble would find some help not far away. As I trekked up towards the 3 mile resthouse, I found several points of shade. I took quick advantage of them, stopping to drink some more fluid, mist myself with my spray bottles, and take some deep breaths of air.

Along the way, I still started to develop a headache and some mild stomach upset. Knowing that such things are nothing to mess around with while hiking in such dry, hot conditions especially, I started slowing down and stopping more frequently. I appreciated the extra time I was giving myself to gaze around at the side canyon formed by the Bright Angel Fault, but was vaguely concerned. After continuing to urinate more than usual even, and checking myself for other symptoms, I became comfortable that other issues were at play than the heat and hydration factors. Knowing that I was doing a lot of elevation change, I figured altitude sickness of some variety (most likely, the non-threatening, just uncomfortable variety) was likely. If I had quit smoking as planned, I figured it probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Of course, the symptoms could just as easily been from nicotine withdrawal, caffeine withdrawal (even though I had the Nuun energy, it was less than I was used to for sure), lack of sleep, excessive amounts of food and drink going into my stomach, the tough exercise itself, etc.

At one point, I looked down the trail a ways and noticed a guy wearing a red T-shirt and blue shorts, carrying just a water bottle. He looked terribly unprepared for the hike, especially as the heat was setting in, and he was beginning to look miserable. I noticed him holding his head and taking every sliver of shade to rest for a minute that he could find. I became vaguely concerned for him, especially because he clearly wasn’t treating such misery appropriately–it takes time, rest, hydration, and cooling yourself down to properly deal with that, not just stopping for a minute and plugging ahead in your misery. Looking ahead, I saw a park ranger calmly strolling down the trail, and I figured that he would be noticed quickly. As the park ranger passed me, I could tell she was giving a quick look at everyone hiking up, and I apparently looked to be in relatively great shape, as she said a hello and kept on strolling by. I figured that she would probably see the guy below and direct him to properly taking care of himself on the trail, so continued on my way.

3 Mile Resthouse
As I approached the 3 mile resthouse, I noticed that I was catching up to Orange Guy and his wife rather quickly. They had left Indian Gardens well before me, but around every switchback leading to the 3 mile resthouse, I was just getting closer and closer. As I hit the 3 mile resthouse at 2:00pm, I caught up and joined them in the shade. Here there was a large group of people already, notably from several different countries, speaking several different languages. We all discussed the World Cup, the beauty of the canyon, and what our adventures had been so far.

View from the 3 Mile Resthouse
View from the 3 Mile Resthouse

People were surprised to hear that I had just hiked down into the canyon that morning and was on my way up the same day. Everyone had seen the many signs saying it was a terrible idea, and many took time to recognize how difficult the hike could truly be to accomplish in a day. Orange Guy considered the 3 mile resthouse the point at which you are “Home safe”, much less likely to suffer from heat illness, as the higher altitudes were bringing cooler air. I was happy to hear his opinion on that matter, but made myself rest in the shade for a good while nonetheless. Looking at the map, I knew the next 3 miles were some of the steepest climbing up I would be doing over the whole hike, so I wanted to be prepared.

As I left the 3 mile resthouse, I met with Orange Guy and his wife, who was from Colombia. Although they were going much slower than I would normally have gone, I decided to stick with them and their pace. It provided some awesome moral support to continue making it up, and helped me feel better about making sure that I was stopping frequently enough to safely deal with the headache that kept coming and going as I was climbing. It also gave me a lot of time to look over the canyon, at the hike I had completed so far, and get new views of the canyon that would otherwise be easy to miss. We discussed our different hiking experiences and how they helped or didn’t help us for hiking the Grand Canyon. They are from Palm Springs, and so we also discussed different hiking opportunities in Southern California. It was great comradery to find in a stranger along the trail.

Mile and a Half Resthouse

View from the Mile and a Half Resthouse
View from the Mile and a Half Resthouse

Just shortly before reaching the mile and a half resthouse, I left Orange Guy and booked it up to the resthouse. Arriving at 4:00pm, I stopped to rest. Changing my socks one more time and elevating my legs for a while, I enjoyed gazing at the canyon and the trails I had hiked. I took stock of all of my food and drink, and decided to munch down a little more food before continuing on. I also opened my first aid kit and popped one full strength Aspirin, thinking perhaps that could help me with the headache I was having. At this point, I noticed that I had bit a hole in the bite valve to my water reservoir, and I was slowly leaking fluid as I was walking. Nonetheless, I concluded that I had enough fluid to make it to the top, and set out on my way.

As I climbed the last 1.5 miles of the hike, the wind had picked up, blowing dust in my face, and the air was beginning to cool drastically. People on the rim were shouting into the canyon, waiting to hear their echoes return. I don’t know why I found this shouting so annoying all of the sudden. I think the quiet nature of the canyon that I had been in all day made the shouting seem loud and obnoxious. Avoiding letting the annoyance get my spirits down, I charged ahead, and made it to the South Rim at 6:00pm.

I had read many others who made an account that finishing on the South Rim is amazingly anti-climatic. You almost feel like there should be a giant “Welcome back! You made it! You did it! YEAH!” party, or at least the finish lines you see in a marathon. Considering that I did pretty close to the length of a marathon, at over 20 miles, but with much more elevation change (in the neighborhood of 9000-10,000ft total change) than any sane marathoner would want to do, I guess a little wish for something like that wasn’t completely unreasonable, haha. There’s just nothing, though. Doing it alone, I had no one waiting for me, and no one seemed really phased by the fact that I had just walked up, out of the canyon.

Hike map from Google Earth mapped route, plus elevation profile (accurate estimation; somewhat shorter than the actual hike)
Hike map from Google Earth mapped route, plus elevation profile
(accurate estimation; somewhat shorter than the actual hike)

On The Rim!
I wanted a cigarette like I have never wanted a cigarette before…

I rested for a short while on the big “Bright Angel Trailhead” sign, with my feet elevated on my pack. I had left Orange Guy and the others I had conversed with down in the canyon, and hadn’t seen anyone familiar again for the last mile and a half. I wondered if I would see them again, but that didn’t seem to be happening. I decided that walking back to camp wasn’t worth it, so I jumped on the closest shuttle bus and headed to camp. I was glad I did, because on the shuttle bus, I heard where the “Food Court” was, and that was my goal… after a cigarette…

The shuttle dropped me off at the campgrounds, and I immediately jumped in my car and headed to the market. Finding where I could buy cigarettes, I bought a pack and went outside to smoke one. I got a quarter of the way through and couldn’t stand it any more, suddenly amazingly hungry.

The Brat
I ran to the food court and saw that one stand had Brats and Battered Zucchini, among other things. I knew what I was going to have. That Brat was probably not all that amazing in itself. But after that hike, that single brat is the best brat I have ever had in my entire life. Overpriced, for sure, but I didn’t give a shit. I didn’t have to cook it myself, and it was exactly what I wanted. There’s a brat I will never forget.

I then drove back to camp and went straight to bed. I woke up a few times, freezing cold. I didn’t care and just went back to sleep. Ended up sleeping 12 hours!

Sunday, July 20
I had been thinking of waking up and driving to the North Rim on Sunday. I quickly ditched that idea as just not being worth it. I was too sore to find driving that far to be truly worth it–it is a 4-5 hour drive from the South Rim to the North Rim! Instead, I decided that I would wander around the South Rim by the shuttles, taking in sights that I missed last time I wandered around the South Rim one year ago.

After some aimless wandering, I decided to go find some WiFi access to update everyone on Facebook that I was doing well and give a real brief explanation of my hike. With the help of one park ranger, I was directed to Park Headquarters, where there is a library with free WiFi. At a table there, there was a local working on his laptop. After sitting for a short bit, we began conversing. We discussed the hike that I did and how it was going, and he gave me some tips that the locals around the area do for staying and hiking in the Grand Canyon. From his advice, I am definitely going to be doing things differently next time that I go, especially next time I do it alone! Overall, I chatted with him for a few hours, and had a great conversation about many different aspects of the canyon and hiking in general. He was a man who was making a six-figure salary as a lead software developer for a company in London when he decided one day that he was sick of that life, quit his job, moved back to the US, and began living out of a trailer hooked to the back of his truck. He now runs a website ( www.pickatrail.com ) and was currently spending time in the Grand Canyon, living on property with his wife who worked on the canyon grounds.

View for "Lunch" At Hermit's Rest
View for “Lunch” At Hermit’s Rest

After that discussion, I decided to take the shuttle to Hermit’s Rest, the farthest point east that the national park shuttles go. I had lunch there, looking at the scene that I had not previously been able to see, and checking out the gift shop located there. There is another trailhead at that location, going down into another side canyon. I quickly decided to add that to my list of things to do at some time in the future.

After a time at the Hermit’s Rest area, I decided to head back towards Yavapai point to watch the sunset over the canyon. I ended up on a ledge with many other people, meeting new people and having several nice conversations as the sun set below the horizon.

Lighting of the Canyon as the Sun set from near Yavapai Point
Lighting of the Canyon as the Sun set from near Yavapai Point
Group of people gathered to watch the sunset
Group of people gathered to watch the sunset
Caught a picture of the sunset. Clear sky compared to the sunrise I watched, but it was still a wonderful sunset.
Caught a picture of the sunset. Clear sky compared to the sunrise I watched, but it was still a wonderful sunset.

I then jumped aboard the shuttle once more and went to camp. Back at camp, I sat staring at the stars for hours. Except for the constant interruption of neighboring campers being loud and using an annoyingly large amount of light to do every little thing (including just talk to eachother, for some reason that needs a fire plus 4 lanterns? I don’t understand), the stars were absolutely beautiful and I was happy to stare at them forever. When my annoyance at the neighboring campers finally overtook my enjoyment of the stars, I headed to bed to wake up and head home the next morning.

Monday, July 21
I woke up on Monday, and after breakfast, immediately tore down my camp. I actually wasn’t very satisfied with the camp, so I wasn’t really phased by this yet. After checking out of the campsite, I went over to the Backcountry Information Center. Although I had spent all of Saturday in the backcountry, I had avoided this place, because I knew they would not approve of my planned hike. This time, however, I wanted to check it out so as to be familiar with it for my next visit. There’s plenty of very helpful and friendly people in there, and I look forward to actually utilizing their knowledge to help the next time that I am out. THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME!

After some time there, I began my drive home. I actually felt more anxious and surreal leaving the Grand Canyon than I did leaving home. As I drove home, though the sights were beautiful and I was having a wonderful drive, I couldn’t help but feel depressed. As though I had left some part of me back at the Grand Canyon. I think I did. Something else was placed where it remained, but it was just depressing to leave somewhere that had absorbed me completely for 3 days.

As I arrived home, I almost wanted to start crying as I opened the gate to my apartment complex and drove in. Not what I expected at all, but it only got worse as I walked into my apartment. Everything was exactly how I left it. It was “home”. But everything just felt different any more. None of it was any different than the day I left. I suppose what was different was me. Somewhere out on this adventure, some part of me changed. “Home” didn’t feel so much like home any more. In fact, going back to sleep on the hard, rocky ground of the Grand Canyon still sounds more appealing than the noise polluted, light polluted, air polluted place I live. That hard, rocky ground actually sounds more comfortable than the bed I have been sleeping in so comfortably for much longer.
The Future

I learned several lessons on this adventure. If I was to do it again, I would pack less food. Of course, I freaked out about not having enough, and so I ended up with far too much instead. I also would not camp in the Mather Campground, but go camp in the Kaibab National Forest that borders the park instead. Much more secluded, less noise, less light. Can truly enjoy the experience that I felt I missed by camping at Mather Campground in the park.

In the future, I want to do a Rim to Rim to Rim hike. This would be a multiple day adventure, either requiring a backcountry permit or careful, exhausting planning. I do want to spend some time with a backcountry permit at some point in the future, exploring around in the canyon more than is possible without one. With miles of canyon to explore, I will probably want to go back more than once.

The Grand Canyon has truly stolen my heart once again. One year ago, we became acquainted. This year, we got to know each other. In the future, perhaps I can get more intimate with her grand beauty.