I mean, really. Take a minute.
This shot is a view of the starting point for our Rim to Rim hike last weekend. The Bright Angel Trailhead weaves its way from the South Rim, (think high desert, touristy and spectacular views), down the canyon, past campgrounds, the mighty Colorado River, and Phantom Ranch, and up to the North Rim, with majestic pines, aspens and oaks. It's 24 miles from one starting point to the other, and there are just as many ways to hike this amazing trail.
Our adventure was a culmination of planning and preparation by a friend in Utah, who had organized a posse of 20. Some were hiking from North to South on Friday only to turn around and hike back to the North Rim the next day. Others were starting from South and going to North on Saturday, bringing fresh legs and happy attitudes to join their weary friends. The beauty of this plan meant there were options for everyone to drive or hike depending on how they felt, as there were cars at both ends of the canyon.
To finish the hike in a respectable hour, we left at 5 a.m. with layers and headlamps. The darkness below us was dotted with tiny moving lights of other hikers who had left even earlier than us. And so it began. Down, down, down, we went. By first light, we hit Indian Gardens campground where campers were just waking. We then pushed further along until we hit the expansive and mighty Colorado River. The water was churning and frothing a river of chocolate, reminding us of the power that this river possessed.
We crossed the canyon on the first of several suspension bridges that spanned the mighty water. And as the trail bottomed out, we picked up our pace to a run, taking advantage of the flatter terrain. About 10 miles into our journey we reached Phantom Ranch. Here is where North hikers cross paths with South hikers for a sit, a stretch, a bite to eat, or a glass of "Lemmy" lemonade (delicious). There were many groups and individuals passing through, including a group wearing R2R TonyFest 2011 t-shirts. Had we miss Tony Robbins along our journey? A quick foot dip into the icy off stream and we were off.
A few more miles of slightly uphill terrain led us to Cottonwood rest area, or the last of our low-heart-rate miles. From here on out it would be uphill climbing for the next several hours. And here is where we learned a few things about hiking R2R.
Hiking Poles: Yes! We all agreed that the poles helped engage the arms for momentum and took pressure off the knees. Unless you are going to run more than you walk in the canyon, poles are worth it.
GPS: Unnecessary. My 310XT lost satellite frequently when I was in the depths of the canyon, giving me the wrong mileage while I was on the trail. When I was actually at mile 18, my Garmin was reading 22, which put a mental funk in my spirits. I kept thinking we were close to being done and it WAS NOT SO. *At this point is it mentally taxing to ask those coming the other way how far it was to the top. Nobody has any accurate gauge and it only messes with your mind when people give you the wrong information.
Camelback or Hand Held Water Bottles: Both. Our group had all levels of participants. The fast and the furious took only gels in their pockets and water bottles in each hand. One bottle was for liquids and was refilled at water stations along the way. The other was filled with pre-measured amounts of Perpetuem sports drink to add to the other bottle as necessary. This strategy worked for most of the hike until the last stretch of the climb, where one fellow hiker ran out of water and had to be saved by his friend who was wearing a Camelback. And as for Camelbacks, we agreed that the best hydration systems were the ones that had mesh pockets on the front of the pack, where bars and nutrition were easily accessible. It was a pain to take off your pack every time you needed something to eat.
Nutrition: Our group used only sports bars, gels, blocks and drinks to get us through the day. We did not stop for sandwiches or food at Phantom Ranch. This seemed to work well, though I would advise taking extra gels for the uphill section of the hike as this was a quick and easy way to ingest calories. AND, more than one of us smelled the citrus scent of a hiker who had stopped along the way to peel and eat an orange. Believe me when I say that biting into an orange has never sounded so sweet. I will be packing fruit next time I go.
Run vs. Hike: Both. It was fun to speed our way through the canyon. And it was nice to finish the hike in the mid-afternoon, leaving time to shower and have a hearty dinner at the Jacob's Lake Inn that night. But on the flip-side, it would be very fun to mosey -- take your time, breathe in the canyon air, spend the night at a campground or at Phantom Ranch. I would suggest making your first attempt at R2R with an experienced hiker. Our friend, or King of the Canyon as we called him, was an experienced Rim To Rimmer. He gave us all the information we needed to know before we started the adventure, including nutrition and hydration requirements, packing lists, hike suggestions and routes and final meeting and hotel reservations.
Up, up, up we went. Just when you couldn't step one more foot forward, you'd turn and see another switchback and a tiny hiker way in the distance inching his way up an even higher spot on the trail. Hour after hour, the trail narrowed the and rugged scenery began change. Amid towering forest pine trees bold blasts of color awakened the senses -- red, orange and yellow oak trees splashed across the mountainsides. Aspens and evergreens clung to the edges of last mile of the trail. What an extreme change from the high desert sagebrush on the South Rim to the cool temperatures and pines of the North.
Around the last bend, our friends greeted each other with high fives and shouts of joy. We had conquered the canyon -- some of us twice. And walking like a cripple the following day was worth every ounce of energy it took to make it out of that spectacularly grand canyon. There's a reason it's been named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. This place is special. It has a deeply spiritual and peaceful atmosphere around it. It challenges the human spirit and leaves us wanting more. This is not a one-and-done hike. We will return and conquer you again.
But for today, I'm just gonna try and make it down the stairs in my house.
Our trusy leader Brandon, aka King of the Canyon
Regroup and refuel
Never ending uphill
And... no photos at the end. My arms were too tired to hold up a camera. Imagine many happy hikers with sweat on their brows and smiles on their faces, ready for a hot shower a hot meal and hot slice of Jacob's Lake apple pie.