The Hike Back

24 10 2012

High noon and the sun is directly overhead. There is little shade along the river and for the first time on the hike I’m starting to feel the heat.

We cross another narrow suspension bridge and pick up the Bright Angel Trail on the other side, where after a few minutes, we encounter another mule train. This one had people on it, being carried to Phantom Ranch from the rim. We let them pass, squeezing against the trail’s rock wall. On the other side, a steep drop to the river.

The mules appeared miserable, their skulls sunken in from the intense heat and yet they carried on. When I first arrived in the Canyon, I was fascinated by the mules and would visit them quite regularly at their stable next to Victor Hall. This only added to the dorm’s unique smell. Riding one of these beasts of burden from rim to river was never something I desired to pursue. I was more than healthy enough to make the trek on my own and as the wranglers can attest, a mule ride is not the most comfortable way to travel.

As the mules passed, Desmond used the break from hiking to look for small rocks. They were everywhere. We both took one each, as a memento of sorts. Mine was a mix of red and black with shiny quartz sprinkled in. Taking rocks out of the Grand Canyon, of course, is against park regulations, but since the Grand Canyon was damn near taking all of the life out of us, what’s a couple little rocks going to matter.

As we left the river side and began a steeper climb up the Bright Angel Trail, I found it harder and harder to keep up with Desmond. He was much younger and had recently competed in a marathon. This was by far the most physical activity I had taken on since roaming the streets of New York City a few summers back.

Desmond was steady and he began to distance himself from me. We were no longer talking. We were hiking up a mountain. A Grand mountain.

The switchbacks were damn near murder. Every time you rounded another corner there was a steep stretch of trail awaiting and a steeper one after that. The vegetation was disappearing and so too was the water. There was hardly a soul coming from the other direction. It was early afternoon and most were taking shelter from the unrelenting sun.

Finally, after an hour or so of steep switchbacks and heavy breathing, the trail began to level out and I recognized the rock formations from my previous hike to Plateau Point. This is when I felt totally consumed by the Canyon. One small piece to the puzzle.

Yucca and blooming century plants appeared more frequently as we pressed on, up the Bright Angel Trail toward Indian Gardens. Tiny lizards began to scurry across the path and sounds of birds chirping from the brush filled the air. It was during this stretch of the hike where I felt like stopping, making a camp and just hanging out for a while. That would be so nice, but we both had to work the next day. The summer season was upon us and soon the park would be overrun by tourists.

“It will look like a giant ant hill’s been stirred with a stick,” was how one bus driver referred to the peak summer  season.

Deep inside the Canyon, however, was another story entirely. Only a tiny percent of visitors to the park actually enter the Canyon and even a smaller percentage make the hike to the river and back. We were a good three-fourths of the way to completing this super challenging endeavor when the swaying Cottonwoods of Indian Gardens came into sight.

And little did I know, pain was waiting.

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2 responses

25 10 2012
Margaret Webster

Goodness – what happened? Hurry up before I expire from suspense! Maybe one day I will be one of the few to make it to the bottom and back out again. But I am pretty sure it will not be all in one day. This is just amazing! Thank you as always.

27 10 2012
David Altermatt

I love this story of your trek and how you rose to the chalenge.

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