Thursday, May 19, 2011

Grand Canyon R2R2R

What in the world does that mean? For those of you who are not endurance junkies or insane or promise your wife this for her birthday present, it means hiking the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim back to the South Rim. In less than 24 hours. Total mileage? Depends on which trails you take. We went down South Kaibab (7 miles from trailhead to Colorado River), up North Kaibab (14 miles from Phantom Ranch to trailhead), down North Kaibab (you can figure out that distance.), then up Bright Angel (9.8 miles from Colorado River to trailhead). There is added distance when you factor in the trail to and from Phantom Ranch and the trips to the toilet off the trail, so we'll call it a 45 mile hike that goes a lot of down then a lot of up then a lot of down and then a.......lot.......of........up. But this recap does not start with the hike. It starts with some touristy things.
This is the Hermit's Rest Trailhead. We did NOT hike this trail. I repeat, there is a trail in the GC that we did not hike. Not because we couldn't, because we could have if we wanted to, but because we had to conserve all of our energy for the task at hand. We took the shuttle over there, which was quite nice, but a little stinky with all of those bodies.

Kevin took this picture and told me that he got his mad self portrait skills from JT (Justin Timberlake-and he's not kidding). So I had to try out what I had learned from the person who learned from the master.
Not bad, right?
Friday morning 3:50 am wake up call. Get ready with layers because it was expected to be chilly to start out, which I understand is all relative, but when the starting temp is in the 40s, that's chilly for us. Caught the Hikers Express Shuttle at 5:00 am, which the term "express" should be used loosely here, since it took us 20 minutes to get to the trailhead and we stopped twice. Got to South Kaibab Trail Head. Used the potty. Of course. Took this picture ate 5:30 am and started down, down, down:

You see that wrap thing on my head? I love it. I bought that at the General Store up there because I was concerned for my warmth. The print on it is a trail map of South Kaibab and Bright Angel. It kept my ears pinned to my head so they were nice and cozy. And if you look in my Camelbak you can see the top of my Nalgene bottle and it looks like there is dirty water. Not the case. It is Perpetuem, an endurance athlete drink. Remember this. It saved Kevin.
So we trot down. The BEST thing about the early am is NO MULE TRAINS. None. It's the little things like this that really made a difference. We did see a trio of crazed Asian descent people. They were whooping and had on a floppy shoes and a bottle of water. That looked like the extent of their provisions. We saw them at least three miles down, which is the easy part, and there is no water on the South Kaibab trail. I hope they made it out alive. But maybe they saw us and thought "There go two crazy Americans. They have no survival skills if they need all that stuff to keep them alive." We got to Phantom Ranch in two hours, which is good time. I know it seems like not fast, but we had to stop twice (for me). We ate and used the facilities. There were several people up milling around in the area, but the cafe was not open. Here we are after we refueled:

How many pictures do we have like this? I'm going to say a dozen. On to the North Kaibab! We did not see anyone for almost six miles! And the two people we saw snuck up behind us. I almost had a heart attack. I was worried about getting attacked from behind after Susie told me that the trail is rampant with murderers and rapists (she told me this to discourage me from hiking to the top alone if anything happened to Kevin). We stopped at Cottonwood Campground for food and refill water. It was eerie that there wasn't anyone. This is us in case you have forgotten what we look like when we are hiking:

Hey! Where's me? Oh, that's right. Potty break.

Keep on keepin' on. Up to about this point there is very little incline as it runs along the river. After we get through this campground it starts heading up. I chose to listen to General Conference on my iPod. Which I was very glad that I had that thought because I don't really need motivation music, and besides, I am a little sick of listening to it right now, so I filled my spiritual cup as I drained my physical cup. There was a terrifying moment on the trail. No, I didn't slip off the side. We came across this:
FIRE!!!! In the Grand Canyon!!! One of the Natural Wonders of the World! Oh, wait. There are guys in yellow jackets that seem to be tending the fire. And it is very controlled. Thank heavens! I was worried that I was going to have to activate the emergency system, but more importantly, HOW WERE WE GOING TO GET TO THE TOP OR BACK AGAIN IF THERE WAS A WILDFIRE?!?!?! So, my thoughts were selfish, but glad that this was not a wildfire, but a controlled burn. Keep going.

I was getting a little antsy that we were not moving faster, but I could tell that Kevin was hitting the wall. Hard. And I did not want to push him beyond what he felt he could do. A few times he told me to go on ahead, but I refused to leave him (again, the murderers and rapists might get me), but finally once we past the Supai Tunnel, I agreed and went on ahead. I got to the top at North Kaibab and was met with five hundred flies, and some of them were biting. I was not amused. Especially when I tried to eat something and they wanted to join the party. A young man who was working at the North Rim Lodge was there and was quizzing me about all of the details of the hike that we were taking and how long had we been hiking and how long did it take to get to the river and how could he do it and how long the trails are. Kevin got out and is usually a very friendly person and will talk to anybody, but he barely acknowledged my companion. I knew he was in trouble. Here comes the Perpetuem! I had enjoyed my own earlier, but I gave him the Orange Vanilla flavor, and he said that he felt better instantly! Unfortunately, the water was turned off at the top. And at Supai Tunnel. Which meant that the next source of water was at Cottonwood, which was about seven miles down. Not good. There were a couple of hikers that were at the top that were planning on going down the next day, and they had some spare water, so we "borrowed" (I wasn't planning on returning it, though) some water. Here is us at the top:

If you do a Rim to Rim to Rim, this shot is obligatory as proof that you made it to the other side.

Back down. This part gets tough because your toes have gotten relief from the going up and now you are going back down with a steeper decline. I could feel my right two toes were getting blistered, but kept moving. Here's me by Ribbon Falls:

Two things that you could learn from this shot. #1 Hiking poles are ESSENTIAL. I mean it. They reduce the effort on your legs by 30%. #2 Compression socks are ESSENTIAL. This was the first time I have worn them on a hike and I could tell a difference.
It seemed like everything took FOREVER on this trip. For instance, when on this trail is "The Box" which is the relatively flat section that I talked about that is about eight miles, but it seems like sooooooo much longer. We crossed five bridges that seemed like fifty. Got back to Phantom Ranch at 8 pm, which we were worried that the cafe would not be open, but it was and it was rockin' in there! People were still having a good time. We needed a break and something new to eat so we each got a bagel with cream cheese. We saw a ring tailed cat and a fox when we were leaving. There is no picture of us this time. We were beat and .........go. And it was dark, which really shifted our perspective because we didn't have the visual cues to let us know how far we had gone. And there were spiders. Toads. And scorpions on the trail. Kevin told me later that he tried to step on all of the spiders because he was in front and didn't want me to freak out, but after a while he became too tired to even do that. I didn't care about the spiders. Or the scorpions. Because now, all I could think about was the mountain lion that I was SURE was stalking us. I even turned around a few times, sure that I would see eyes shining in my headlamp. We did see a lone doe on the trail. It became a mental challenge, because I kept thinking about taking a shower and getting into bed. So I started counting in my head. I counted to 100, and then when I got to 100, that was one, and I told myself that we would get to Indian Garden by the time I had 32 sets of 100. I only got to 26! I was so happy. Kevin laid down at Indian Gardens. I did not. I was not too tired to remember the spiders and scorpions. He asked me to take this picture:

He said he wanted a picture of him for the kids in case he didn't make it out alive. So once we pushed on, I kept thinking about how selfish I was for asking my husband to do this with me. I had to stop that, so I counted again. The moon was full so it helped light the way. I was so happy when we got to the 3 Mile Resthouse! Only three miles to go! We still had three miles to go? Ugh.

Onward. Now instead of counting, I tried predicting how far we had gone and kept saying in my head: "We've only got 2.9 miles to go, we've only got 2.9 miles to go" and then when I thought we had gone a tenth of a mile, I changed it to "We've only got 2.8 miles to go" etc, but I hoped that I was underestimating how far we had gone, and when we came up to the 1.5 miles resthouse and I had in my head that we still had 2 miles to the top, I was elated! Kevin saw the emergency call box and commented that it looked really good right then. Still going up. This part is such a mental endurance challenge that I can't even describe it. You know you have to keep going because you can't pull off to the side of the road and motion to the medical response team that you're feeling lousy, you have to get out! And I could NOT have done it without Kevin, nor would I have wanted to, despite the fact that I thought he may not make it. But when we saw the sign for the Bright Angel Trailhead, I don't think I have ever had that much relief or love for my husband. WE DID IT!!!! Truly an amazing bonding experience. And here we are at 0230 in the am:

The looks on our faces do not relay the exhilaration that we had. Must be the tiredness.

We got back to our room and surveyed the damage, which was great. I had chaffing on my shoulders from my pack, two blisters on one foot, two toenails sure to go, sore backside, but that shower. That shower! And then the bed. And the sleeping in. Nice.

We were beat up, battered, but definitely closer as a couple, so for that, the experience was truly once in a lifetime. That is, until Kevin told me three days after the hike that he would do it again. Wh-aa-at? Yep. He says he'll do it again and wanted to know if I would to. Of course I would, dear.

P.S. Siblings: This trip is NOT the one that we will be taking for my 40th birthday. Mom said there was no way she was going to allow it. Ours will be the much easier 17 mile hike.