Grand Canyon: Hiked!

Well, a relatively small portion of it anyway. Marcia and I are home tonight after four days on foot and three nights in a tent deep in the Grand Canyon. It was an extraordinary trip, on every front. The physical scale and grandeur of the Canyon simply beggars belief until you actually see it, go down to its bottom, and come back up again. The natural history evident in the walls and stones also make for an exceptionally remarkable opportunity to travel through time, both in terms of seeing the various layers from the ancient past stacked one atop the others, but also in terms of the plethora of fossils (including animal tracks) pretty much wherever you look. And beyond any intellectual response to the experience, the actual views and vistas that you encounter at virtually every turn are just breathtaking. We hiked around a couple of side canyons that in pretty much any other place in the country (or world even) would be considered as natural wonders meriting praise and preservation. In the Grand Canyon, they’re sidelights.

We booked our trip through Wildland Trekking and I most heartily recommend them to you should you wish to have a meaningful experience in the many natural surroundings in which they plan and lead tours. The booking and planning processes were easy and supportive in advance, and the logistics of getting to and from the Canyon were both flawless. As the schedule played out, another couple who were going to be accompanying us cancelled at the last minute, so our posse for the big adventure was just Marcia and I, our guide Eddie, and his fellow guide Matt, who was shadowing us as part of expanding his own portfolio of tours that he may lead with Wildland Trekking. They were both tremendous at their jobs, and were both absolutely delightful people to spend time with in the Canyon. Marcia and I both tend to be curious about what we’re seeing and doing, and Eddie and Matt’s knowledge of our route, its history, geology, flora and fauna really enhanced our trek, as did the amazingly delicious meals that Eddie was able to whip up for us on a camp stove with a sack of well-curated dried goods. We’re very, very pleased to have had the opportunity to meet them and to spend such quality time in their company. You’ll be a lucky traveler if you’re ever able to book a trip with either of them.

We did have cooler, windier and wetter weather for the first two days of the trip than would be optimal, but that just made the perfectly comfortable last two days feel all that much better. Our trip went down into the Canyon via the Bright Angel Trail, then veered westward after Indian Garden onto the Tonto Plateau. We had the Horn Creek Campsite just to the four of us the first night, which was wild, especially with 50 mph wind gusts rocking the tents through the night, driving rain, and repeated visits by a most confident and assertive spotted skunk. Nobody got sprayed, thankfully. Continuing westward on the Tonto Trail, we spent the second night at the Monument Campsite, and the third night at the Hermit Creek Campsite. Both sites allowed for walks down to the Colorado River at the base of the Canyon after we’d made camp and dropped our heavy packs. Those were good rambles, and you really get an extra spring in your step after setting aside your camping burdens.

The final day was dedicated to the climb out of the Canyon to its South Rim via the Hermit Trail, about 8.0 linear miles on a map (no problem at all for us, usually), but with about a 3,800-foot net ascent in the mix, much of in two exceedingly steep segments at the Cathedral Stairs and the final push up from Santa Maria Spring, it was a bit of a beast. There have been numerous rock slides in recent years that have crossed the trail, so it was rough going at times, especially when the trail was sort of hanging off the edge of truly vertiginous cliffs, and the packs we were carrying made us feel a bit more wobbly and top-heavy than we might otherwise. We were thankful for the cooler temperatures on the final push, but even with that fortunate hand being dealt to us, I would count today’s hike among the most strenuous physical days I’ve ever undertaken in my adult life. I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever been happier to see a parking lot full of cars as I was today when we crested the final climb and saw the Hermit Trailhead picnic area before us. A great ending to a great adventure.

If you’re a map nerd (like me), you might appreciate the image posted below showing what our overall route looked like. We started at the right-hand terminal point, and ended at the left-hand one. For perspective, the average elevation of the South Rim (where we started and ended) is about 7,000 feet above sea level, and the average elevation of the Colorado River (our lowest point in the Canyon) is about 2,200 feet above sea level. So even with the Google Earth view in the map below, it’s hard to capture the sheer verticality of the experience in the Canyon. It’s tough going, suffice to say. (You can click the pic to enlarge, if interested).

As per usual, I snapped photos along the way (supplemented by some taken by Marcia, Eddie and Matt), and have set them up in a gallery over at my Flickr site. You can click on the photo below of me and my very bestest adventure buddy on the Tonto Plateau to see the full collection. And while you do that, we are going to go and really, really, really appreciate our most comfortable bed at home tonight, feeling like we earned a truly dreamy sleep!

3 thoughts on “Grand Canyon: Hiked!

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