Week 3: The Grand Canyon – The Descent

The Grand Canyon.  You hit me like a ton of bricks.

So let’s see…

If you were following my blog in late August, then you might have been a bit confused when I jumped from Flagstaff, Arizona to The Pacific Northwest.  Yeah, my bad.

Things got a little, shall we say… out of control.  And oh what a good thing it was.  So let’s pick up where I left off.

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If you recall my post about Flagstaff, then you’ll understand that I left town feeling a bit… hazy.  My night out with John, my couchsurfing host, had went a bit later than I originally intended, but how could I pass up such a unique opportunity to bar tour Flagstaff, a well known craft beer haven, on bike?

Friday, August 16th, 2013

A one and a half hour drive and a 5 Hour Energy later, and I was at the top of the canyon.  I was feeling excited, curious and eager.

I was originally planning on just camping somewhere around the top of the canyon for two days.  However, my stay with John inspired me to get into the backcountry.  After some long conversation filled with local knowledge, it just seemed way to generic to just camp at the top.

So I went to the Grand Canyon Backcountry Office, and lucky for me, they actually had an overnight pass available!  As I stood there face to face with the park ranger, I said “What would be the chances they would have two days in a row available?”

“Generally, it’s not likely, but let me check.”  She clicked away on her keyboard.  “I’ve got two nights available in Bright Angel campground.  Do you want them both?”

“Hell yes.”

And so it began.  I headed back to my car and started to load up my backpack, in preparation for two nights at the bottom of one of earths greatest wonders.

Supplies

My supplies included some dehydrated backpacking meals, trail mix, a mini camp stove and fuel, iodine tablets, a tent, camp bed, sleeping bag, some clothing (too much in fact) and 4 liters of water.  Oh, and of course my camera and tripod.

With my gear all packed up, I jumped on a bus which took me to the South Kaibab trailhead.  Soaking in the scenery at the top of the canyon rim, I felt like a champ.

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I met some wayfaring travelers on the way down…

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One of which tried to steal my food.

Unfortunately, a little ways into the rim, I realized I forgot my camera bag at the top when I took my first photos!

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After an extra 15 or so minutes hiking back up, my pack started feeling heavier.

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The scenery was breathtaking.  I forged on and the heat set in.  73 degrees at the top of the canyon.  102 at the bottom.  There were points were the temperature change seemed so dramatic, it was almost palpable.

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Starting at an elevation of 7,260 ft, South Kaibab trailhead has a total elevation change of 4,780 ft before reaching Bright Angel campground, my destination for the night.  The trail itself was 7 miles long.  There was no drinking water available on this trail.

On my way down, I marveled at the wealth of wildlife, the monolithic stone structures and endless skies.

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As I made my way further into the canyon, the crowds of dayhikers thinned out.  Soon it seemed like I was the only one on the trail.  I often stopped to look over the edge and think how one wrong step could be the end of me, and no one would know for days.  Then I smiled and thought about how awesome BASE jumping here would be.

I soon ran into two other backpackers, Callie and Alex, two med students at the University of Arizona.  We hiked together, traversing switchbacks and finding our way into the canyon tipoff as they tempted me with stories of Havasu Falls, Zion National Park and other amazing places to visit.

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The mighty Colorado River finally revealed itself, somewhat of a precursor of things to come.

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Callie and Alex hauled ass down the trail, and I struggled to keep up.  Not only was my bag heavy and I was shouldering all the supplies, but I soon realized that my running shoes were hardly up to the task that this vertical descent had to offer.  To make matters worse, my backpack’s waist strap was right over my belt, causing it to wear into my side.  But there was no turning back now.  Grin and bear it.  After all, with such beautiful scenery, it was easy enough to distract myself from the pain at hand.

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Callie and Alex took some pictures for me, and I for them, and then we parted ways as I took out my tripod for some more shots.  They had a longer way to go than me, and still planned on fishing for their dinner!

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As I reached the tipoff, sundown was nearing, but at about 3/4 of the way down, so was my destination.  I could see Callie and Alex on the switchbacks below me, running to make up some time.  So my ego kicked in, and I started running too.

It didn’t last long though. The heat was rising the closer I got to the bottom, and fatigue was starting to set in.

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The river was getting closer, I could actually hear it now.

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Pretty soon, the sun had gone down and I took my cameras batteries and put them into my headlamp.  I was tired.  I crossed the bridge over the Colorado River and searched in the dark for signs that would point me to my campground.  I could see two headlamps in the river below me, like fireflies in the night, with giggles and splashes as Callie and Alex fished for their dinner.

I finally made it into the campground, but now I had to find an open camp site.  Fatigue was getting the best of me.  My ankles throbbed from the constant downward impact and lack of cushioning or support from my running shoes.  My sides ached with the dull pain of the weight of my pack over a thick leather belt rubbing my skin raw.  I wanted nothing more than to sit.  I finally found a camp site and removed my back pack.

I sat for ten minutes.  It had now been a little over four hours since I started (ahem, re-started) my descent after grabbing my camera bag.  My 4 liters of water were nearly purged dry.  My legs were jelly.  I knew that if I sat any longer I would not get back up, so I forced myself to set up my tent.  My ankles were swollen.  Walking was a chore.

I pitched my tent in a most pathetic manner, then laid out on the bench as I boiled some water on my camp stove and prepared a dehydrated meal.

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As I laid there, my stomach turned.  Heat exhaustion set in.  My food was ready and I chewed up a spoonful, but could barely swallow it.  I laid back on the bench and moaned some.  My body started to sweat profusely from every possible pore.  It felt as if every drop of liquid inside me was trying to make it’s way out of any opening it could.  Get it?  I was hurting.  BAD.

I drank some more water and tried to eat some of the salty mixed nuts I had.  My backpacking meal wasn’t agreeing with me, but I knew it was my only chance at feeling better.  I forced down the fist couple of spoonfuls between sips of water, as my body ached and sweated more and more.  After a few more spoonfuls, the wealth of sodium filled my veins and the water soaked up like a sponge.  I started feeling normal again.

It was now around 10:30.  I cleaned up my things and prepared for bed.  The temperature at the bottom was high, forecast had called out 95 at night, and it felt at least as much.  I stripped down to my boxers and laid on top of my sleeping bag as my body rejoiced for the rest it was about to receive.

I closed my eyes and soaked up the sounds of the canyon, as I drifted off to sleep…

Stay tuned for more, and in the meantime, check out the high quality Flickr album of my first day in the Grand Canyon.

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One response to “Week 3: The Grand Canyon – The Descent

  1. Pingback: Week 3: The Grand Canyon – Climbing Up the Walls | LIFE: REFORMATTED·

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