Welcome back! Hopefully you enjoyed reading about my trip from the north rim to the south rim – I had a great time writing about it. Especially after Clinton and I went back last weekend to visit the south rim. Looking down into the canyon and pointing out Indian Garden brought back a lot of memories. I am very happy that this hike was so successful! Here are some pictures highlighting our experience, starting from the north rim.
I know I ended a bit abruptly last post – it is a lot to re-evaluate after walking out of the canyon the next day. As a reminder, here is where we left off…
Heidie and I had spent a substantial amount of time researching and readying ourselves for this hike. Heidie already had a long history of hiking up and down the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails during the summer months to meet the river runners on the Colorado (specifically her husband!) I haven’t been on the Grand Canyon trails but I’ve hiked Angel’s Landing at Zion and a few 10+ miles hikes inside Glen Canyon. We already had most of our gear and spent an entire afternoon making sure it all still worked/fit/etc. We looked up the weather before we left and spent time talking with the rangers at the backcountry office to ask questions about weather, packing, food…we felt like we were really prepared!
As we huddled under a rock outcropping, stuck in “the box” and unable to backtrack to Cottonwood (it was at least three miles away at that point), we discussed quickly our emergency plan. From our research, we knew to keep our backpacks away from us, sit as low as possible, and try to keep a good distance apart. As the lightning around us increased, we felt very fortunate that we had listened and made the right decisions up to this point. We knew there was a storm, but later even the seasoned veterans we met at Phantom Ranch said that the storm we got caught in was more powerful (and later in the season) than they had seen in years previous. We were on the other side of the waterfall (in the picture above, that waterfall is blocking the trail we had just ran through when we first saw lightning only minutes before), and we were protected. We were far enough back that I was able to sit down and stretch out my legs and we still had a few feet between us and the trail.
After about 10 minutes, we saw a couple approach from the other side of the waterfall. They tested to see if they could cross and then walked down the side to cross the fast moving stream that the waterfall produced. We tried in vain to yell “stop”, and we HIGHLY recommend that you never 1. walk in a lightning storm and 2. try to cross a fast moving body of water. Regardless of your excuse, this is how people get hurt or die. In any case, the couple didn’t die…and almost walked right past us. We are not ones to preach, but we did stop them to remind them that it was lightning and to be careful. Lucky we did this, because as we talked we all heard a sound like lightning striking right next to us. It made my heart stop. The guy and I watched as a huge piece of rock dislocated from the side of the canyon wall only 50 feet away from us and fall to the ground, shattering and blocking the trail ahead. Who knows – if we hadn’t stopped them, how close would that couple have been to that rock?
The couple continued on, but Heidie and I stayed another 15 minutes and waited for the lightning to pass and the pounding rain to lessen to a constant drizzle. If I didn’t mention this already, I was SOAKED. My rain jacket only went down to my hips, and I had quick dry pants that definitely worked…if I had time for them to dry. They had dried before the storm came, but with it’s quickness and ferocity I didn’t make it far without the rain completely going through my pants. I also realized that the rain jacket I had, while reliable for many years, had finally succumbed to it’s many years of hiking, camping, and backpacking. Along the shoulder seams, it slightly leaked over time. At this point in the trip, between sweating from hiking and the slight leak in the shoulders, I was pretty wet. I had wrapped most of my camping gear and clothes in waterproof bags and/or trash bags before packing them in my backpack, so I wasn’t too worried about those items. Heidie and I started walking when we heard another sharp crack like lightning. We watched, across the now roaring stream, rocks fall from near the top of the canyon walls to our right. That hurried us up!
It was two hours later when we arrived at Phantom Ranch. We were behind by a few hours and were very tired. Because the storm did not let up as we walked, and hearing crashes of rocks in the distance, we didn’t stop. When we arrived at Phantom Ranch we stopped at the nearest table and had a wonderful talk with a hiker. Doug has been hiking north-south rim for the past five years! He walked us through the campground (we were nervous about rock fall or the water swelling around the river and wanted his recommendation) and it was really cool hearing his stories of past years. We found a nice site near the bathrooms and were able to get out of our wet clothes and set up camp. We had also already pre-ordered our dinner at the Ranch, so we headed to the tables and waited for the dinner call.
As we waited, Heidie and I assessed our situation. Frankly, we were exhausted. Because of the storm, I had stopped my regiment of eating each hour. While I had drank plenty of water, each time I tried to each a cashew or a granola bar it felt like chalk in my mouth. My anxiety was up and I tried to calm myself, but while that helped me keep going (we did try to stop, but everything was wet and there was really no areas to duck out of the rain) it didn’t help enough. I tried to eat dinner but could barely finish the stew broth and a few bites before pushing it aside. Knowing that you need lots of calories, water, and SALT, when hiking I made sure that I at least kept drinking water. We had been mixing our water bottles with a packet of electrolyte (Gatorade mostly) solution as well. Our backpacks were soaked, and while we had packed our stuff in dry bags or trash bags to keep them dry if it rained, the relentless rain for two hours had still soaked through one of my older bags. My sleeping pad was a little damp when I went to bed that night! Because we had arrived later, and the sun was already going down, we knew that we wouldn’t have the opportunity for our back packs and items to dry out. Overnight, it ended up raining…knowing this, we covered our backpacks with the poncho Heidie brought, but nothing dried overnight. Later we would be very thankful for the decision we made that night – we decided to have the mules bring up our backpacks the next day.
Having the mules bring up our backpacks did relieve our bodies of the extra weight, but it also changed our plans. We had one night at Bright Angel, and one at Indian Garden. The mules don’t ‘deliver’ your bags for you – we weighed them, put a ticket on them, and picked them up later on the top of the south rim – so that meant we wouldn’t have our sleeping bags/tent/sleeping pad to camp. We would have to wake up the next morning and get out of the canyon that day, instead of knowing we had two days to split up the hike. While it did dramatically change our plans, I think it was the best decision. We had a great night listening to the stream next to the camp ground, and the stars were absolutely gorgeous. We had amazing talks with a father and his 12 year old son from Iowa and other hikers who had either started at the north rim like us, or had started at the south rim. Most south rim starters were walking back up the south rim and we not necessarily doing the “rim-to-rim”. It was pretty cool being a part of a small back packing/hiking community at Phantom Ranch and I definitely recommend trying to stay a night there!
We woke up early for breakfast, and grabbed our to-go lunch before starting up the south rim. We had tagged our backpacks early (by 6:30!). Heidie’s backpack included a fold-out day pack, which we had removed from her larger pack to take with us out of the canyon. We had water, rain jackets, and food. We started on a pretty good pace through the canyon until we got to the first set of switch backs. One of the best reasons that Heidie was such a good hiking partner was her ability to motivate me when I felt like I had hit a low point – halfway up the switch backs I started to feel the strain from not eating as much as I had wanted the day before. I’d like to say I motivated her as well during our trip at certain points, but I specifically remember this point of the trip as needing some assistance!
Indian Garden had a helicopter pad, a park ranger, and the first stop for the mules that carry humans. It was very strange being in “civilization”, but we found a picnic table and spread out our to-go lunch. I was able to eat a lot more than I thought I originally would, and drank a good amount of electrolytes. After living and working in the desert for the past three years I’ve learned that my intake of salt vs. water is sometimes very low. Recognizing that, I made sure to try to overcome that during the hike. It was a good thing that I did! As we continued our hike to our next destination – Three Mile House – I had a new hiking plan. At each switch back, I would wait for Heidie to catch up. By this time, Heidie had the back pack and the hiking poles, and her steady walk allowed me to catch my breath and continue up ahead to the next switch back. It was a good method as I tried to also catch glimpses of the gorgeous area. I have to be honest – after Indian Garden I didn’t take as many pictures as I could have, mostly because of a snafu from earlier before our hike. In a bit of confusion in the morning, I had packed my battery pack…but not the actual charger cord. I had taken lots of pictures on the north rim, but since my battery was dying I didn’t want to continue to drain it – especially because our plans had changed and I needed to call Clinton.
When we finally made it to Three Mile House, we talked with a nice couple that had started from the south rim and were turning around towards the top. We ended up walking past each other a few times on our way up – it was very interesting seeing the same people as we got closer and closer to the top. At Three Mile House, I was able to call Clinton and tell him that he needed to pick us up that day instead of the next day. We had already discussed a few scenarios and since this was one that we knew could possibly happen, it was no problem for him to leave and meet up with us.
Heidie and I made it to 1.5 Mile House and rested before heading up, and I will admit at this time I had again stopped eating. I know my body pretty well, and could feel that I had been drinking water to the point where it wasn’t beneficial, so I decided to switch to gatorade packets. While I think I made good decisions regarding stopping, drinking, and trying to eat…it was a struggle. I had to stop frequently. Everything everyone writes about those last miles is so true! We had a few hikers who were “local” who encouraged us when the realized we were near completing a rim-to-rim, and I when we called Clinton about .5 miles from the top and he said he was heading down to meet us…that was all the motivation I needed! I was going to walk out of the canyon myself – DAMMIT! And I sure did. When I got to the top, I looked to my right and then to my left and there was Clinton. I gave him a big hug and was so happy that we had made it out of the canyon successfully. What a day! We made it out later than we thought because of the pace we ended up going, but all in all it was such a great feeling getting out of the canyon and checking off such a high bucket list item.
We changed and got our backpacks from the mules, and Clinton drove us home. While we didn’t get the exact trip that we had originally planned for, it was still such an amazing experience. I could not have imagined that heading into the canyon would be so breathtaking and yet so demanding. Heidie and I were forced to make a few fateful decisions along the way, but looking back I think we made the best decision we could have made for the time, location, and knowledge. I was able to use all my experience and ‘training’ to make the best of each bad moment. Overall, I love that we had such a great and original experience in the canyon. Between camping for two nights on the freezing north rim, to experiencing a lightening storm before camping at Bright Angel campground…I sometimes can’t believe I actually accomplished the hike. I hope you all enjoyed reading about my crazy experience!
Last year I started to get in my head that one of the best adventures / hiking experiences I could have while living in the Southwest was hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim. I started to read blogs, articles, and the NPS website to see if I could answer the question: Could I actually hike this and make it out of the canyon? No one wants to be the moron who is rescued out of the canyon, right?
I started to form a plan that involved hiking in September or October with a group of friends…and then COVID hit. My plans went immediately out the window as my staff members where I worked started to quit or find another job. I went into safety manager mode at work, and threw aside my own personal plans. Not that I didn’t keep hiking or getting outdoors…it was just harder and more involved. I’m sure everyone reading this who went through the 2020 Pandemic knows exactly what I’m talking about…and glad we’re on the other side!
Heidie and I had been planning this trip since January 2021. I started on a few exercise regiments right away. By this time, I had perfected my indoor gym. When COVID hit, I was in the middle of training for hiking later in 2020, but since I didn’t go that year I was able to expand the gym significantly instead. The original group had shrunk, but after hiking with Heidie on the Wiregrass Trail, we realized that we were pretty compatible as hiking buddies. I have to say that we honestly were the best hiking buddies the entire trip. We never left each other, we never argued…when one of us started to get frustrated or lose confidence, the other would bring them back up. If Clinton couldn’t go with me, I would always choose Heidie!
With 2021 came a new job (yay!), new work-home balance (double yay!), and a renewed interest in hiking rim to rim. Heidie and I decided that we would make a goal to hike by the end of the year. When the lottery system didn’t work to obtain a camping permit at the bottom (don’t even get us started – we were very upset with the entire system), we decided to take an entire week off in October to attempt a walk-up permit. We highly recommend this approach. Though it left a lot of things truly undecided, such as the thought we could get a room at the Bright Angel lodge on the other side, or even know if we had a campsite to get in line for a walk up permit…we managed to make it happen. After only two camping nights at the north rim we headed off in the early morning hours October 5. (We also had been able to successfully order dinner the first night, breakfast the next morning with a bag lunch to go from Phantom Ranch. This allowed us to pack lighter!)
We actually started off pretty ominously…we had a wake up call for 3 a.m. on our phone, but a heavy lightning storm had make it’s way through the night before and a thick layer of fog and rain held us back from leaving until 5:30. I was a little nervous that we would have to rethink our entire strategy and seek another set of days to head into the canyon, but as we drove to the trailhead parking lot we could see the clouds breaking slightly and the rain had become a light mist. The parking lot was surprisingly almost full, but we managed to find a spot where we could leave the car for pick up a few days later. (We had already coordinated with our husbands – Clinton was meeting us at the south rim, and George would be driving back with a friend to pick up the truck.)
We headed out to a beautiful, misty morning that sparked light rain here and there. We passed a few groups as we headed down, and surprisingly ran into a lot of people who were hiking rim to rim in a day. While the thought had passed our minds, we knew we couldn’t force this trip on just a day. I thoroughly enjoyed the time we took walking along the north canyon walls and knowing I had a night camping at the bottom. As we walked, I was able to look around and just ‘be’ in the canyon. I have always loved the north rim – it is serene, lovely, and completely different than the south rim. As we walked, I thought and felt like I was walking more in SE Alaska or Washington state…it was a nice, peaceful feeling knowing that I was starting an epic adventure into an unknown territory. (At least to me!)
We were drenched first with sweat then with rain before making it through the Supai Tunnel and to Roaring Springs. The clouds had settled back in and it was starting to get more and more humid and hazy. The affect it made on the canyon was astounding and very hard to put into words…but it was something I knew many others probably had not seen on their own hiking adventure into the canyon. I could hardly believe how gorgeous the canyon was at each switchback. Our backpacks were starting to wear on our shoulders as we stopped to rest at Pumphouse Ranger Station, but we kept along – me taking a picture here or there before we made it to Cottonwood Campgrounds at 10 a.m. for a long, relaxing lunch. The sun broke out over the canyon walls and we were finally able to dry out a bit. Already, our feet were killing us! We were rethinking everything – did we pack too much? Are we still on time? But for each ‘negative’ thought, we mentioned how beautiful it was around us and how excited we were to be on this adventure.
Cottonwood Campground was a quaint little campground with neatly laid out campsites, and with easy access to water and bathrooms. There were a lot of people there (camping, about 5, and we passed about 10 hikers as we filled up with water) but most of them were friendly and talkative. It was nice talking with others either about to finish their trip from one end to the other, camping the night to start tomorrow, or passing through like us to another camp site. It almost felt like a little community…which was strange because there was nothing more than what you can carry in and out! We spent an hour in the area before heading out into the open canyon towards the Colorado River.
When we left Cottonwood, we had already hiked 7 miles and had 9 more to go to get to Bright Angel and Phantom Ranch. We restocked our water and began our trip out through the canyon. The next 3-4 miles were relatively flat, with a few up and down hills scattered among the open canyon. Instead of walking along the canyon walls like we had the entire time we were heading down from the North Rim, we were further away from the canyon walls with a variety of desert plants like prickly pear and mesquite trees. We could hear the spring to our right as we walked along the well, worn path – we even passed (and then later were passed) by some of our fellow walk-up permit seekers. We ended up seeing some of the same groups of people the entire trip!
My feet were killing me and my legs wobbled if I stood still for too long, but my breathing was excellent (I was worried since I have asthma but I didn’t end up using my inhaler once!) and my shoulders were actually doing well. We made sure to eat each hour as we walked, and reminded each other to drink water frequently. It was gorgeous at each turn. Though it had been obvious that autumn was on the north rim, it was still summer as we headed closer and closer to the Colorado River. Heidie and I had spent the day before we left for our hike combing through our backpack so we had exactly what we needed – and though we maybe thought we could have packed a bit lighter, I still don’t think we packed anything we didn’t need or use at least once. We both had gone over emergency procedures and read through the weather report. As we looked out towards an area knows as ” the box”, we saw some dark clouds. We both talked about our next steps as we switched into the rain jackets we had packed a few miles beforehand since the sun was bright and hot.
Mentally, I had been preparing for this trip for almost a year. I went downhill when we got our first rejection from the permit lottery system, but once we started to really embrace our “plan B” I was back on track. We were very surprised as we headed down how difficult the walk was – heading downhill with a large pack is not always the easiest thing. We made sure to pack a small first aid kit with mole skin, lotion, band-aids, and yes, ibuprofen! It ended up really saving our feet when we made it up the next day. Another thing we were very happy we made sure we packed this first day was our hat and suntan lotion. We did not burn at all during our trip, and we definitely ended up changing back and forth through layers frequently.
At the afternoon fully slipped into our grasp, we continued on our adventure. Our goal was Phantom Ranch and the 6 p.m. dinner we had ordered at the bottom. We had a good amount of time to get there, settle into our campsite, and eat our dinner…and then we saw the lighting from the storm ahead. I have to say…I HATE LIGHTNING. Growing up in Florida, we had assemblies each year in school where we discussed the dangers of lightning. I swear, they instilled this in me! When I saw the lightning and heard the clap of thunder, Heidie and I looked at each other for only a split second before I shouted “run!” and pointed at an area we could hide. We had entered the box – the part of the canyon where the walls close in and you have only a narrow path between a slick canyon wall and a stream. As the rain suddenly opened up on us, we found a small “cave” to hid in while the storm passed. The torrential downpour quickly created a flash flood and we thanked each other for making sure to run as we watched the part of the trail we had just walked through become a waterfall. As lightning rained down on us, we threw our packs away from us and huddled down into the cave. We were soaking wet and slightly scared, but we were in the safest place we could have been at the time. Heidie and I seemed to make the right decisions when we needed to make them – and for that I am happy! It could have been a much different experience…
I’ll stop here for now, and I hope you keep your eyes here for the next part of our adventure hiking rim to rim!!