Grand Canyon Trek, Feb. 2013

Destination; Grand Canyon ~ February, 2013

My first road trip in my Prius, and what a lovely (and inexpensive) trip it was!  Although I did fill the car, I could have made the 8-hour drive on one tank each direction driving conservatively.  It was made all the more fun sharing it with my friend, Norma.  The two of us trained for and hiked the Himalayas last year, albeit with different groups, adding to the fun conversation as we rolled by the beautiful and ever-changing desert scenery.  We laughed as her iPhone tried to direct us to cut strait across the open desert planes rather than follow the highway as the more practical paper directions had.  Good thing we held to the roadway, or we’d likely still be stuck out there in the middle of the desert somewhere outside of cell reception, with raptors circling with bated breaths overhead as we hike our way toward Timbuktu.  Additionally, we probably wouldn’t have had the great pleasure of seeing a heard of pronghorn Antelope, known to be the fastest land animal in North America, second only in the world to the cheetah.

Off to the Grand Canyon with my friend, Norma.

Off to the Grand Canyon with my friend, Norma.

Pronghorn Deer... second fastest animals in the world.

Pronghorn Deer… second fastest animals in the world.

Infamous Route 66!

Infamous Route 66!

We stopped in the darling town of

Williams for a little walkabout town to stretch our legs and check out the visitors center with it’s cute museum located in the original old train station.  Snow piled along the roadside, remnants of a recent storm, which added a definite chill to the lovely clean air and blue skies.  Hints of pine scented the air and a feeling of a slower, more content life blanketed this place with the main excitement being the old fashion rail way to the Grand Canyon.

 

First views of the Grand Canyon

First views of the Grand Canyon

Excitement grew as we joined Hwy 46, then 180 toward the South Rim.  It was my very first time to the Grand Canyon and it seemed I was one of the only American’s not to have seen it… a definite “first” ….I just love those!  We arrived about 3pm, after a 1-hour time change.  I couldn’t wait to see the view, so we stopped at the lookout hesitating to watch a lovely male mule deer sporting an impressive rack of antlers wonder through the trees (and tourists) before reaching the rim with the breathtaking view opening up like … well, I guess it’s like the reverse of the Rocky Mountains, dramatically dropping down toward the Earth’s core rather than skyward.

Cheeky friend

Cheeky friend

The width and breadth are gapingly spectacular and painted in brilliant warm colors reflecting in the lowering light.  The dominate horizontal lines of the 7,000’ or so of layers revealed by thousands of years of water erosion is unique to anything I’ve before.   Like powdered sugar, snow covers the top section, so we’ll need our micro-spikes on our shoes to hike the first 1-1/2 or so miles down the icy white trail tomorrow morning.  Huge black cheeky crows enjoy the dramatic drop and seem to tease us all with the promise of fun if only we had wings to spread soar along the cliffs.  One friendly feathered fellow stopped to coo and chat with a couple of us, as though welcoming us to his home and sharing some hints about what to see and do.IMG_2123

Sunset view of the South Rim

Sunset view of the South Rim

We stayed at the Maswik Lodge, just a short walk to the rim.  After checking in quickly, dropping our things in the nice room, we then headed across the train tracks to walk the rim and enjoy the sunset over the Grand Canyon.  As the shadows grew longer, the colors radiated ever brighter until they too were engulfed in the longest shadow of nightfall.  Even then the place seemed to glow in the light of the brilliant stars and perfect crescent moon.

Norma’s iPhone redeemed itself as we made connections with our hiking group at the Bright Angel Lodge to make plans for the start of tomorrow’s trek down to the valley floor and our overnight at Phantom Ranch.  Sue and Don Butler lead the way, Shana and Allan, Paula and Tracey, and Norma and I rounded out our adventurous tribe.  We spent the evening repacking our bags for the overnight adventure, giggling at how often we repeated this process while hiking the Mt. Blanc Circuit in June, 2012.

Our jolly group met at Bright Angel lodge and took the 9am shuttle to the Kaibab trail head.  Snow covered the ground and the temperatures were quite frigid with grey skies, but still spectacular views.  We adorned our various versions of micro-spikes, bundled up and headed down the snowy switchbacks carefully chiseled into the canyon walls.  The scenery is truly grand as our perspective altered constantly with each step.  I felt I was walking down into both geologic history as well as part of the greatest American history, smiling with joy being in this remarkable place.

Heading down the upper Kaibab Trail... burr!

Heading down the upper Kaibab Trail… burr!

The snow and ice trail turned quickly to a bright orange gooey mud after about a mile’s walk.  We removed our spikes and just eased our way through the slimy mud, that would probably make for a soothing mud-bath in another environment.  My fingers had lost circulation a short ways down, but once again hand-warmers came to the rescue.  There’s so much I’d truly struggle to do on this Earth if it weren’t for them… they label it “Renaud’s Syndrome” I call it “terribly painful,” when the cold penetrates my fingers and toes without available circulation to warm them.

Hiking here seems rather luxurious with proper loos all along the way, and lovely spring water taps to refill our bottles… certainly a different experience than in the mountains of Nepal.  I felt I was being overly spoiled all the way.

Ever-changing colors and scenery

Ever-changing colors and scenery

It’s a long way down, about 6+ miles of descending steps which certainly puts strains on our bodies in various ways.  For me, it was my calves… not the muscle group I was thinking would be affected, but these things are a given part of adventure and the experience far outweighs any negatives.  The colors heading down are dramatic with so many brilliant hues of reds, oranges, pinks, yellows, turquoises and greens.

Everyone enjoys the view!

Everyone enjoys the view!

The rock formations are equally as variegated ranging from strong horizontal lines to fragile “cube” rocks, sculptured vertical columns.  At the lower levels, the vertical gave way to jagged veins of different rock types in shades of green.  The colors at the top seems dominate in the orange range, then became a softer yellow in the middle with patches of bright reddish giving way to a variety of green at the lower level.  The rocks, shrubs, everything seems green except the orange trail.   I found myself blinking a bit as everything I looked at seemed to be green as though my eyes had a greenish filter over them.  It was the orange trail and the “milk chocolate” Colorado River that let me know my eyes were not actually growing green moss over the surface.

Kaibab Bridge...heading to Phantom Ranch

Kaibab Bridge…heading to Phantom Ranch

A tunnel leading to a lovely pedestrian bridge across the river let us know we were at the bottom and a short walk along the valley floor to Phantom Ranch.  On the way, we passed old ruins with signs explaining how sensitive the indians were to weather living both atop and below depending upon the weather, as the temps are much more mild here at the bottom during the winter, but the top is better for growing crops.

Waving to friends by the tunnel

Waving to friends by the tunnel

Since we all walked at different paces, we each had stories to share of folks we’d stopped to chat with along the route.  I met Bill and Dave.  After snapping photos of them, we chatted about the canyon.  It’s also Bill’s first visit, but Dave is a regular here as well as a fellow artists living his retired years in three lovely locations around the US depending upon the season.  He paints or draws one landscape a day and I’m sure he’s done some rather inspired work in this area.  Phantom Ranch was featuring a local artist who happened to be in residence during our visit.  Her work is lovely, brightly colored with bold elegant shapes which decorated the walls of the Lodge, postcards and a t-shirt too.  Each year the Ranch tries to feature a new artist… perhaps Dave will be one of them one day.

Our Phantom Ranch Bungalow... such luxury!

Our Phantom Ranch Bungalow… such luxury!

I stopped to say hello to the mules before entering the bungalow area.  We checked into cabin #8 with bunk beds that were built with the top bunk about 1’ too low, making it awkward to sit or utilize our beds to reorganize our packs.  Luxury seeped in again with an en-suite loo, running water, and even a basic HVAC unit… no ice-covered windows here!  Amanda was our Lodge hostess during our stay happily telling her story born out of a love for the Canyon that started at a very young age.

Norma and I took a short afternoon walk up the canyon to see what was there.  The canyon narrows with very steep walls giving a little feeling of claustrophobia.  It feels a bit like we’re in a sort of “underworld” completely removed from anything above.  It seemed even an Atom bomb could go off and we’d not know until we arrived back up on the surface.  We pass Allan and Shana on their evening stroll as we head back.

Friendly mule deer

Friendly mule deer

The grey sky began to clear a bit as day turned to night.  We passed time before dinner playing “Apples to Apples” with the group and enjoying the company of the local mule deer who share this place.  Games and photography are always such a fun way to get acquainted with new friends.  Tracey won the pre-dinner game, so another was played after our chili dinner with chocolate cake desert… Tracey won again… a good judge of character she is knowing what “the judge” will choose. Lots of laughter ensued all evening.

The night sky

The night sky

Walking back to the cabin, I turned off my torch to stare at the starry sky lit softly by a perfect crescent moon.  The air is so clear the stars seems to sparkle and dance in a unique way and gathered in such populous it was hard to define but a few constellations in the slice of sky between the canyon walls.  Only the bare tree branches laced between me and the peaceful skies above.  What a lovely image to take to bed after a very special day.

Breakfast was served at 7am for our tribe.  We enjoyed a casual morning chatting with some new friends we’d met hiking.  I passed Bill and Dave who were spending 2 nights at the bottom and planning a nice day hike today.   We wished one another well with peaceful smiles.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to a couple originally from Calcutta, India.  We shared stories of various sorts and later passed one another a few times along the trail up to the top.  A few Germans were there as well as a solo hiker from Boston who’d camped, so he had quite a load to haul to the top.  Our group as a whole was in fairly good shape aside from one very sore knee and some stiff muscles.

Bright Angel Trail out of Phantom Ranch

Bright Angel Trail out of Phantom Ranch

 

Bridge across the Colorado River

Bridge across the Colorado River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 8:30am we departed this lovely place. I lagged behind as I stopped to visit with the mules again, but was rewarded by seeing about 8 deer in the tall grasses next to the river who seemed to be there to say farewell and wish me happy trails.  Another high swing bridge lead us back across the Colorado River to the sandy Bright Angel trail.

Reflective creek

Reflective creek

This trail is longer than Kaibab, about 12 miles I think someone said.  The lower part is lovely and gently follows the river winding up and down in scenery where I half expect a dust and leather-clad cowboy to gallop by on his trusty steed in pursuit of hollering indians as in an old western movie.  Alas, it is peaceful, no cowboys or indians of that sort.  Although, one part of the river reminds me of an early scene from the movie “Into the Wild” where the guy meets up with the hot-dog-eating germans on the sandy shoreline.

The moon continues to watch over us

The moon continues to watch over us

The sky this morning is bright blue, the temperature chilly, but not frigid as it will be at the top.  We walk in shadow of the south canyon walls toward the glowing orange face of the sculptured northern rampart.  Clean “loos” are spaced along the trail at the most convenient locations… such luxury!  We chat about life as we walk learning beautiful things about our fellow hikers.  Hiking is so special that way, so much time just striding along lends to wonderful conversations and stories that otherwise remain hidden away in the bustle of life at home and ever-interruptive technology.

Mule friends

Mule friends

There’s never a dull moment hiking here, as the scenery is always artfully changing.  The trail turns away from the main river and up along a gentle creek with peaceful little water falls and mirrored ponds reflecting the many colors of the surroundings.  Ascending upward gradually we pass a layer of rock that looks like giant pancakes, that gives way to massive columns and a lovely plateau shaded in trees and varieties of scrubs.  Our half-way point is here and known as “Indian Gardens,” but the catch is that we’re only 1/3 of the way up in altitude.  Some of the trees are so grand, I wonder about all the stories they could tell in their many decades living in this magnificent place.  A group of mules are tied to railings for a rest, so I head over to say hello and give the a scratch on their sweaty foreheads, which they seem to enjoy want more of.

Heading skyward

Heading skyward

Norma and I only take a short break so we don’t get too cold before heading up.  The temperature is beginning to drop, so we add layers as needed… the same one’s it seem we just shed.  I stuff my gloves with a pair of hand warmers, don my down jacket and off we go.  Further up the plateau we head, then begin the long zig zags up the steep upper section toward the top.  It’s a long haul and I wonder how many zigs and zags we’ll have traveled at the end of this hike.  The solo hiker from Boston hikes with us for a while with his heavy pack.  Everyone we meet is just so happy and friendly in a completely honest way that is delightfully refreshing as it is often lost or becomes a bit contrived in the cites and suburbia.  That alone is a reason to hit the long trails whenever possible in life.

Icy trail

Icy trail

It’s cold here on Bright Angel trail as the sun doesn’t reach this face, so the trails are icy for about the top 3 miles.  The biggest bonus is that there isn’t mud, like on the Kaibab trail, as the temperatures have frozen the mud solid.  I slip the micro-spikes onto my shoes and enjoy the steep climb with good traction.  A couple long switch backs later, Norma figures we have 3 more to go, I look up to the ridge, and figure there has to be much more than that.  It turns out to be 3 zig zags to a lookout point, but another 10 to the summit along with 2 very fun tunnels carved through the solid rock walls.  The views from these higher trails is jaw-dropping and made even more-so looking way down at the trail we’d trekked just a couple hours ago… the plateau area.  The canyon floor drops far down below that out of sight from the rim’s edge.

Norma and near the top

Norma and near the top

We completed the days hike in about 5.5 hours culminating in a visit to the little museum at the end of the trail.  Those last stairs up were the hardest steps it seemed.  We head to the Bright Angel Lodge and sit by the fire to warm our hands.  Allen comes in a little later, the others seem to still be on the trail, so we decide to head back to our various hotels to enjoy a hot shower, relax and reconnoiter later in the evening to recap, and bid one another “farewell until next time.”

Grand Canyon Sunset

Grand Canyon Sunset

It was a fantastic hike and made all the better in the company of some truly exceptional new friends.

What wonderful folks!

What wonderful folks!

 

 

 

 

 

My calves are sore, but the muscle groups I was expecting to feel are feeling good.  We all are tired, but elated at the experience we’d shared these past 2 days.  The evening ends with a spectacular sunset in the most brilliant of golds and pinks one can imagine captured in just a few dramatic brush-strokes by Mother Nature herself.  What a wonderful way to end my first visit to the majestic Grand Canyon.

Brilliant Sky... later turned fuchsia pink!

Brilliant Sky… later turned fuchsia pink!

Norma and I get to bed early in preparation for an early departure back to Orange County to beat the traffic and perhaps have a bit of daylight left to make the most of at home.  Smiles grace our souls the whole way home… what a trip!

 

Categories: North America

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