|A view of the Bright Angel
Trail from the Silver Bridge crossing all the way to the
After you've hiked this trail even once, you divide it up into sections with dividing points of the River Resthouse, the Devil's Corkscrew, Indian Garden, 3 Mile Resthouse and the 1.5 Mile Resthouse.
River Trail Junction Mile: 16.4 / 7.7 Elevation: 2,440
The start of the BA is marked by the River Resthouse. Ron was ahead of me and was checking out the availability of water. But he found none, even though various guides say it is available. Luckily, it wasnít imperative since weíd just filled a mile and a half back. As we started the grand ascent, I commented to Ron that I wished we were past the Devilís Corkscrew, now starting to break up the trail into smaller sections, each one a mini goal to complete. "I wish we were almost done!" I wasnít suffering from that delusion. All I knew was that there was a lot of work ahead. Every time I put my right leg forward I had to think about it. If I forget my leg would remind me to pay attention. All I could do was to minimize the pain. In stretches it wasnít so bad; then in others is was.
Above the Devilís Corkscrew I pointed back at it to Ron who was not impressed one bit. His focus was going forward. For me it was an accomplishment because it was the first hurdle cleared of several checkpoints Iíd mapped in my mind on the long journey to the rim. We could part of the South Rim, but not our destination. We were still below the inner gorge but I could see the end to that coming and knew we had a fairly long flat section coming up approaching the next checkpoint: Indian Garden. It was warmer than we'd hoped given the time of year, but I was paying no attention to that or my missing hat.
I didnít snap a single picture until we were out of the gorge and onto the flatter section leading to Indian Garden. A highlight which I couldnít take advantage of came when Ron, some 50 feet in front of me announces as heís pointing to his right, "Rattlesnake! You better come quickly. It's heading away." As I got out my camera I thought to myself, "Itís probably not a rattlesnake!" As I approached and he indicated where it was, Ron didnít wait and walked ahead. I first saw the light brown body, but the head was unseen. "Thatís a gopher snake," I announced before noting the strange dark brown markings which indicated this is not a gopher snake. Then at the very tail I would see a six ring rattle! I then announced but Ron didnít hear me, "Itís a Mohave Rattlesnake!" I was in no mood to play Steve Irwin to try to get it out for a better picture and I knew the one I took would be unsatisfying. It was simply astounding to see one out in the middle of the day when all rattlesnakes are night feeders.
Indian Garden Mile: 19.5 / 4.6 Elevation: 3,800
Indian Garden was the next checkpoint. I have really come to love this place. There is plenty of shade, a nice water outlet, and many other hikers. For most of your hike you're looking for serenity and few people. But late in the hike as you're getting dog tired, the company become very welcome. It is also the approximate half way point up the trail. Instead of water, I now unpacked my Gatorade mix. With the heat and without my cap I was surely losing more electrolytes than I planned. A drank more than half the bottle right there and then refilled and added more mix. Ron was thinking of going ahead and I encouraged him. "Iím going to have to take it slower." He was worried about Cindy. "Wonít Cindy be mad if I leave you?" I wasnít worried about that one bit. "Sheíll be happy to see either of us and besides I have the walkie talkie!" Yes, I thought to myself, soon Iíd be in contact with her and Iíd let her know that Ron was well in front.
In raw mileage terms, we had completed most of the journey. Weíd already hiked over 19 miles with only 4.5 to go. But I wasnít kidding myself in the least. This was going to be a brutal section especially because I was now tiring significantly and my leg was not doing any better. The drill was now finding a way to walk that was the least painful.
I wasnít worried at all. First, there was no doubt I was going to make it. Slow it would have to be, but Iíd make it. Second, you simply have a lot of company once youíre beyond Indian Garden. Suddenly the trail is loaded with day hikers going up and coming down.
Then I started to worry. Not all the time because I had to pay attention to ease the discomfort. My worry was my silent walkie talkie. As 5 hours passed, our best case scenario, I rationalized that even though the walkie talkie supposedly has a 5 mile range, it often is limited to 3 and sometimes as little as 2. So I was still out of range. I started trying ever so often, "Cindy, are you there?" Every time the result was silence.
3.0 Mile Resthouse Mile: 21.1 / 3.0 Elevation: 4720
Every switchback in the trail became a victory. But every time I looked up it was disheartening to see how much higher I had to go. I donít know why I was looking. I knew exactly how far I had to go. There is a great visual landmark you can see to the right from time to time called the Battleship. From the top you are looking down on this massive butte and here I was still looking up. Finally, the next hurdle approached: the Three-Mile Resthouse. I was not happy that it was some 100 feet off the trail which was added time and effort, but I wanted to top off my bottle and take a brief rest. I sat in the small ramada with 8 other hikers who were talking about the Ooh-Aah Point. "They say we have to see the Ooh-Aah Point. No one seems to know where it is." I was pleased to be able to answer, even though it required that I perform a little math in my head and the calculation was now surprisingly difficult. "Itís on the South Kaibab Trail, about three quarters of a mile from the trailhead. Itís an easy hike." I wouldnít have normally told anyone it was easy, but they were at the Three-Mile Resthouse so this hike was many times more difficult.
It was a nice moment. I then topped off my water bottle and started the agony again. From here on out, mentally things were becoming a blur. As I noted it was now 5:45, the silent walkie talkie was starting to unnerve me. I checked it from time to time to be sure it was still on and set to the proper channel. "Cindy, are you there?" Though there might still be 2.5 miles left to go along the trail, the straight-line distance was now well under a mile. I was trying not to consider the inescapable conclusion: Cindy was not there, yet. What has happened? An accident? Car trouble? And Iíll bet sheís worried that weíre down with our hike at the trailhead wondering where she is.
1.5 Mile Resthouse Mile: 22.6 / 1.5 Elevation: 5720
Every time those thoughts would pop into my head Iíd try the walkie talkie one more time and when nothing came back, Iíd tell myself you have your own problems, but the pain was beginning to seem trivial. As six hours passed, however, the thoughts were impossible to dismiss. I then strolled by the One and Half Mile Resthouse without stopping. I didnít need any more water and certainly didnít need any extra weight. My leg which was holding me up was no longer a factor. I was now just tired. And the more tired I got, the less the leg seemed to bother me. Every so often it would remind me, but for the most part the pain had subsided. Maybe it was because I was so tired. If only that walkie talkie would start talking!
I finally decided (read: rationalized) there is a technical problem with Cindyís walkie talkie. Perhaps she can hear me, but I simply canít hear her. So I started giving a narrative, "In case you can hear me because I canít hear you, Iíve just passed the One and a Half Mile Resthouse. Ron is walking ahead and will finish way ahead of me."
There are two landmarks on this last 1.5 stretch and they are both tunnels. In the two hikes before Iíd gotten very excited when I hit the first having forgotten there are two of them. The last tunnel is so close to the traihead that once youíre there youíre essentially done. But the first one is still well below the rim and thereís maybe 25-30 minutes left to go when you arrive there. I made it through the first tunnel at 6:15 and now it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I was now way overdue, but where and what happened to Cindy? Carrying this walkie talkie was supposed to be a salvation and now it was a curse.
At 6:20 the silence was broken and for only the briefest moment I thought I was in the Twilight Zone. The walkie talkie came to life and the distinctive voice of Ron was at the other end. "Gene, are you there? This is Ron." As tired as I was I processed the thought instantaneously. Because we have our walkie talkies set to a very unusual frequency that Ron couldn't have possibly guessed, I knew he was using Cindyís! "Iím here! Itís good to hear your voice! Whereís Cindy?" He replied, "Sheís getting me a diet coke." I didnít have to ask the next question as Ron automatically answered it. "She accidently put the walkie talkie into emergency mode and was afraid to use it." I knew immediately what had happened as this same thing happened to me earlier in the hike. She hit the red emergency button. Now if you make any transmission, itís going to be on an emergency channel. In order to set the walkie talkie back, she had to hit that same red emergency button. She thought be hitting it sheíd be signaling when in fact all it does is toggle modes. Ron was not afraid to hit all the buttons.
Soon it was Cindy on the box and she said, "Hey, we can see you! Whereís your hat?" I didnít get the joke. I responded dryly, "Itís at Cottonwood Campground!" They really couldnít see me yet. Ron told her to ask about the cap. Now I was feeling genuinely good (or was it relief?) and the hike was nearly over. Finally, Cindy said, "Iím sure I see you. Are you about to turn." As I was approaching an upcoming switchback, "Yes, Iím about to turn. Iím making the turn now." I waved as I said that and I looked up and could see the Colby Studio Building (it looks like a small house) which is right at the trailhead. I could not see them, but I was really close. The second tunnel was 50 feet ahead and after that it was another 150 feet and it was over. My watch read 6 hours and 45 minutes as I joined them.
Bright Angel Trailhead Mile: 24.1 / 0.0 Elevation: 6,860
Only as I arrived did Ron mention the leg. "Howís the leg?" "Actually itís only a little sore and isnít too bad right now." Cindy then says looking at Ron, "You didnít say anything about a bad leg?" "I didnít want to worry you." I was happy it was obviously not bad enough for Cindy to notice.
Cindy offered to bring the car around, but I didnít think that was a good idea. I knew what was coming. The moment I stopped moving I was going to feel sick. Iíve been through this drill too many times. So we walked for what seemed like a mile to get to the car. As we started to change clothes that familiar feeling in my stomach came right on queue. But as usual it was easy to deal with it. All I had to do was lie down and it was instant relief.
Every time I do these incredibly long hikes at the canyon I wonder if it might just be the last, and this one was no exception. I would like to think the answer is an unequivocal no, but you never know. But I have learned that by slowing down a bit and carrying some food that it helps a great deal. So hopefully it wonít be the last.
The information in the graph is from the monitor Ron was wearing. Therefore, the altitude and distance readings are only approximate. For altitude, he calibrated the barometer at the top of the trail and his reading at the South Rim 6 hours later was amazingly close. However, at the bottom of the canyon the reading should be 2400 whereas his reading was about 2800. What I find totally amazing was how close his distance measurement was, even though we could accurately say, "He missed by a mile!"
Cindy's Pictures of the Grand Canyon Lodge!
But with Cindyís enthusiasm for what she saw at the North Rim Lodge, we now have reservations for late September of 2005! This will be a three night stay and on one of them I now plan on going down the North Kaibab Trail, but not necessarily all the way to either Phantom Ranch or the River. A good possibility is to go only go as far as Ribbon Falls allowing a thorough exploration of some of the side trails.
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