Once again, my wife Jolene and I along with Jolene's brother, Steve and his wife Sandy did our annual descent into the canyon's interior. We decided to try going down Bright Angel Trail instead of South Kaibab Trail. It meant an additional 2 miles of hiking but the steepness is nowhere near that of South Kaibab and two of us have had or were having knee issues. So the "ride" down was enjoyable in the sense that we have never been able to enjoy the scenery from the "down" perspective before. An additional plus was that water was available at Indian Gardens whereas on South Kaibab no water is available once you begin descent until you reach Phantom Ranch. So...our trek began.
Who would've thought that 2 measly miles additional would be the same as trying to run a 10K once you just finished a marathon, without water!!! The weather for the average person NOT hiking would've been called "perfect!" Upper 70's and dry. The temp at the South Rim upon starting was 38 degree's. But knowing the exertion coming we dressed in light layers, knowing that the bottom temp's were upper 70's. Because we started a little later than normal (norm=6 a.m., later=8:30 a.m.) our hike found us in the sun ALOT. Upon reaching Indian Gardens we reloaded with water, but didn't take a full camelback since "we're close and it's downhill anyways". Before we reached the River, I was out of water and still had approx 2 miles of trail to the campgrounds. AND the trail at this point is SAND!. OMG a "ball buster!" I was about relive the stereo typical desert picture of a parched person crawling in the sand, overheated, seeing mirages seeking relief. My legs, specifically my thighs and hips felt like I had Sequoia Tree sized and weight legs. Every movement was WORK and uncomfortable. Water...water...I need water. Whoops....Jolene's brother walks up with a gallon plastic container filled with water and gave it to us. Steve is EXTREMELY fit, more so than most 20 year olds, and he's 57! Jolene and I chugged the water and were at least now able to stand erect and walk (wink wink). We were able to finish the hike to the campground and celebrate with 2 Advils. CHEERS!
You can tell who hiked the canyon to Phantom Ranch from those that arrived via the Mules. Hikers are walking about hunched over oohing and owing with each step and almost unable to walk up the 4 steps at the Phantom Ranch Canteen. The Mule riders are wearing their pressed designer shirts and pressed and creased pants as they toast wine glasses at the canteen. Hikers either are gulping lemonade or a can of beer (yes...beer is available at the bottom by the can, either Tecate or Budwiser. But NO pop! Figure that out! Also remember that EVERYTHING offered at the canteen HAD to get their via the mule supply trains. So it's not cheap!)
One of the greatest rewards upon reaching the bottom is to set up your tent (oh yea the mule riders typically are lodged in the cabins at Phantom Ranch, hikers typically are in the campground. Though some hikers have the mules carrying their backpacks to the bottom and then the hiker can hike down carrying only a "day pack". For us that would have saved 35 lbs of weight in way of the backpack. However, the cost one way for the mules to do your work is $65. In the planning that cost is excessive, however once you have hiked down with the pack the cost begins to look pretty good!
Every year there a multiple deaths within the park from various reasons. Most seem to be due to ignorance and are avoidable! Quit being macho assholes! Use your head, your life just may depend on it! As the Park has posted everywhere, "Hiking down is optional, hiking out is MANDATORY!" What goes down, must go up. You got yourself there, now get yourself out! Believe me when I say the National Park Rangers are BUSY with ignorant people. Attempting to hike down and up in one day, wearing gym shoes, little or no water or sunscreen, no food. IDIOTS! One would NEVER consider getting up one morning, stretching and decide to run a marathon and do it before lunch wearing jeans, a t-shirt and for some...FLIP FLOPS! Are you kidding me! Frick'n idiots!! From Indian Gardens down to Phantom you usually only see serious hikers that are prepared for the adventure. However, Indian Gardens to the Rim is FILLED with day hikers attempting to experience the canyon with NO preparations. Now this time of year even though the temperatures have been above moderate and most of the snow is gone EXCEPT in the shadows. That means that the section of Bright Angel Trail from Indian Gardens to the Rim is STILL ice covered!!! HELLO??? Flip flops, gym shoes and even hiking boots without cramp-ons (devices strapped to you boots that have with spiral wires on the bottom or some type of metal spikes for traction on the ice.) should not be allowed on the trail until it is ice free. One of the "rules" to hiking is "Uphill hikers have the right-away". Thats because they're the ones busting their ass climbing up AND carrying backpacks with approx 30 lbs of weight in addition. Now these day hikers are all laughing, taking pictures and slipping and falling all over the place. Some of these "day hikers" are very young children, like 4-10 years old! Folks, there are no railings here!! HELLO?!?! Any inattention, at any moment can be deadly! In an instant! Also, many of these "day hikers" are visitors from foreign countries and don't seem to understand "Excuse me" or "MOVE". Maybe a pole to the groin or foot would get their attention! ;-) We must be polite now! They're visitors! Further, the "day hikers" are hesitant to move from the center of the trail because of the slippery ice conditions and hey, they don't have traction because of their lack of proper equipment. Their lack of planning is not my concern! Getting out in one piece is! The Canyon is exceptionally hard but achievable and is safe as long as you don't let your guard down. The margin for error is small but avoidable. People add a challenging aspect to the hike. They are unpredictable. Most visitors are great...many are a pain is the ASS for serious hikers. Luckily the "great" visitors make up for the idiots!
We made it out without much incident except for extreme exhaustion from the hike. We always celebrate with a victory "cheeseburger" at the Maswik Lodge. Thats our "finisher medal!" We all made it out just fine and none the worse for the wears. How did I celebrate? Cheeseburger and 2 Advils! Then our 3.5 hours drive home! Boy...we slept good upon arriving home. YES! It was a blast as usual! A major achievement, at any age! That's why less than 1% of the visitors to the Grand Canyon experience the interior! It's friggin HARD! But we love the challenge!
Time to begin planning next years hike! Who's in?