The cast of characters: Me [father of 4, Grandpa, half marathon runner, novice hiker (very novice), first time to hike the Grand Canyon] Richard [my son, instigator, challenger =), has hiked the Grand Canyon a few times] Kelly [daughter-in-law, whom I still love =), has hiked the Grand Canyon several times] Scott, Chris & Scott [friends of Richard, (maybe not anymore) had no clue what they were getting in to, well maybe they did, let's just say it was their first time too] DeAnna [experienced hiker (30th Grand Canyon hike) whose encouragement and experience got me out of the Grand Canyon]
Let me start my story by praising and thanking the Good Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for a day I will never forget and for keeping me and everyone safe during our quest. Next let me say there is a reason why signs are posted along the way stating "hiking to the bottom of the canyon and back to the rim in one day is extremely dangerous. DO NOT ATTEMPT" I thought the signs were for all the other hikers, not me. The other sign along the way said "going down is optional, coming back out is mandatory". Nothing like good 'ol canyon humor to keep a hiker going. So here we go...on Thursday Richard and I set out on a 3 mile hike at the White Tank Mountain, just about 15 minutes from his house in Phoenix. This a great little hike that enabled us to "test out" some of the gear and get our legs going. Richard fixed a fabulous pasta dinner that evening to get our bodies "carbed up". Those were the good things we did that day. Now for the list of wrong things we did that day. Thursday happened to be Game 6 of the World Series and as many of you know I am a die hard St Louis Cardinal fan. So, of course I had to watch....and drink Budweiser...and more Budweiser....and more Budweiser. Now alcohol dehydrates you and is one of the BIGGEST no no's the day before a run or a hike. I figured I would deal with that later =). Of course the game went into extra innings and was the best baseball game ever played. So after the game is over, more Budweiser, friends calling, texting "great game", facebook posting to all my Texas Rangers friends....you know, the usual big celebration. Finally get to bed some time between 11pm and midnight. WE HAVE TO GET UP AT 2AM!!!
2am....Friday morning....the alarm goes off....and I am cursing the celebrating from the few hours before. We all stagger around getting our gear together. I have a small bowl of cereal. Now if you go to the Grand Canyon website they tell you to make sure you have a REALLY GOOD BREAKFAST before you start your hike. Oooops. Here's what the GC website says: Your best defense against illness and exhaustion is to eat a healthy breakfast, a full lunch, a snack every time you take a drink, and a rewarding full dinner at the end of the day. This is not a time to diet.
We gather up all the other hikers and we start on our quest. It's about 3:15am and cold...expected temp at the Grand Canyon was going to be 20 degrees. So we start our 3.5 hour drive....7 adults in a mini van...get the picture? I was able to get a little sleep on the drive. We arrive at the Grand Canyon and start our hike at the Khaibab Trail Head, it's about 7:45am...cold....windy....sunny....blue sky. Here's what the GC website says: KNOW YOUR ABILITIES; CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE HIKE.
You will be hiking at high elevation in hot, dry desert conditions with a steep climb out at the end of the day. Everyone who hikes in the canyon for the first time reports that it was more difficult than they expected. Be conservative in planning your hike!
That's for all the other hikers, right? Our hike will be 7 miles down to the bottom and 10 miles back out to the rim. The Canyon really is spectacular...beyond any description I can come up with. And to be down inside of it is down right spiritual.
Moving right along...it took us about 3.5 to 4 hours to reach the bottom and Phantom Ranch. No problems, feeling pretty good, no sore muscles. We rested and replenished for about an hour...put on dry socks...shed all the layers...it was now about 80 degrees at the bottom. The expected low temp that night at the top of the canyon was supposed to be around 20 or 25 degrees...remember that.
Off we go...on our way back up...now remember, it took us about 4 hours to get to the bottom....it's about 1pm....and the sun sets around 6:15pm...our hike out is going to be 3 miles longer and uphill (that's an understatement)....and remember the low temp is supposed to drop to 20 or 25. Here is what the GC website says: Watch Your TimeCOMING BACK UP IS HARD!
Plan on taking twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down. Allow 1/3 of your time to descend and 2/3 of your time to ascend. As a courtesy, give uphill hikers the right of way. Bring a small, lightweight flashlight in case you end up hiking in the dark.
So we are climbing back out....switchback after switchback...it's absolutely beautiful...streams running down...overlooks that are breath taking...an amazing experience. We come to a rest stop...we are about 4.5 miles from the top and I have hit a wall...and I mean A WALL. Physically I am exhausted and mentally I am defeated. Sweat is dripping off my nose and my shirt is drenched. Here's what the GC website says: Over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. The difference between a great adventure in Grand Canyon and a trip to the hospital (or worse) is up to YOU. DO NOT attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day
That's for other hikers, right? So here we are 4.5 miles from the top, I am exhausted and it's late in the afternoon. This is 4.5 MOUNTAIN miles from the top. Some people refer to miles as AIR miles or RUNNING miles...theses are MOUNTAIN miles. Now a MOUNTAIN mile is like putting your treadmill on the steepest incline and walking for a few hours or you know that Stairmaster and your little 20 minute workout where you "feel the burn" on your legs...well get back on, you have a few more HOURS to go! The group has split up, Scott, Chris & Scott have gone on ahead and Richard, Kelly, myself and DeAnna are together. I tell the group of my condition and my concern...DeAnna sees me and immediately goes into rescue mode. DeAnna is the new "love of my life"...she knows what state I am in...she has seen it before...she has helped others before...she has me put on a dry shirt and asks if I have anything else dry (she already knows we aren't getting out before dark and remember the temps). We start pumping fluids into me and energy bars...Richard relieves me of some of the weight I was carrying, to lighten my load. DeAnna breaks the last 4.5 MOUNTAIN miles down into smaller goals that we will try to reach. Off we go.
We slow the pace down so I don't sweat...DeAnna constantly encouraging me...making the switchbacks seem easier than they are. I think each 1.5 MOUNTAIN miles contained a series of 12 switchbacks...12 steep, grueling switchbacks. I have never been pushed physically and mentally so hard in all my life. It was unbelievable. But DeAnna kept pushing me on...she knew she had to.
We are about 2 MOUNTAIN miles from the top and it's dark and I mean DARK...there are no Quiktrip signs or Whataburger signs lighting the path...it was very intimidating, yet beautiful....and the temps are dropping....the good thing, none of us are too wet...but we are starting to get cold. We all have headlights...thank you Kelly...and we are climbing inch by inch...at least that's what it felt like to me. At 1.5 MOUNTAIN miles from the top I run out of water and the water at the water/rest station had been turned off. Fortunately Richard still had some water and shared. DeAnna and Richard did get me out, finally, at about 7:30pm and it was pretty chilly...not much time left. The final 3 MOUNTAIN miles I prayed, I cussed, I hurt, I about cried and I was ready to just curl up on the trail and give up. But my son, my new friend DeAnna, myself and my Lord would not allow me to do that.
In closing, I have never been in so much pain physically and mentally in my life. My legs had nothing left, but we just kept taking breaks and pumping me with anything we could find. My calf muscles we beyond burning...beyond screaming...they felt like they were tearing apart. And to look up and see how much farther there was to go was so very unnerving. I knew I had to get out before the temps dropped much further, otherwise I would be in serious trouble from the effects of hypothermia. Once that would of set in, it would be a life threatening situation [like I wasn't already =)]. That fear and DeAnna and Richard got me to the top. We all gathered at the bar and celebrated and laughed. Had a shot of tequilla and a beer and some food and headed back to Phoenix. 7 adults in a mini van...get the picture?
The Good Lord blessed me with that day and showed me many glorious sites. None more glorious than at the end of the day...when the sun went down and I was struggling, there was just this beautiful glow against the far canyon wall...AMAZING....and at one point at one of our resting points, we turned off our headlights and looked up to the heavens....I have never seen anything like it and can't even describe the stars in the sky. If that doesn't make you believe in God, I don't know what will. Truly spiritual.
It was a long day...only 2 or 3 hours of sleep...we started out at 2am...hiked for 17 MOUNTAIN miles in about 11.5 hours...and got back to Phoenix at about 1am....in bed around 2am...nothing like being up for 24 hours....had to fly back the next day.....oh my aching legs!!!!! My advice, GO DO THIS...it's an amazing experience....JUST DON'T DO IT IN A DAY! Just like the signs say. BTW, I lost at least 3.5 pounds that day.
Thank you Richard, Kelly and DeAnna. I love you all!!! And couldn't of done this without you. Thanks for the challenge...what's next?
Enjoy the images below...some magnificent sites!!!
White Tank Mountain [warm up hike, Thursday, October 27th]