This is the first “Brushed by Fame” blog that does not include a brush by an actual
famous person. Instead, it’s a brush with one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,000 feet or 1,800 meters).
On April 16, 2013 my co-worker and I hiked 16 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back via the Bright Angel Trail. Most of the reports, park rangers, and on trail warning signs advise against attempting a “Rim to River and back” hike in one-day. I woke up that morning in Sedona, Arizona, a two hour drive or so from the Grand Canyon. Arriving at the Bright Angel trailhead around 8:30 a.m., it was cold atop the canyon. We wore beanies, gloves, and layered clothing as wind gusts blew. After a few photos, around 8:45 a.m., we headed quickly down the Bright Angel Trail.
Hiking down it was amazing to see the beautiful, natural wonder of the Grand Canyon. We passed a half dozen or so hikers who were hiking back up after spending the night at one of the campsites near the bottom. The weather, as it tends to do inside the canyon, changed and became warmer as we hiked down. Our plan was to hike 4.8 miles to the Indian Gardens trailhead before making a decision to hike to Plateau Point for a view of the river or continue another 3.2 miles down to the Colorado River. Although at my age I was a bit nervous about heading further down, my 22 years younger co-worker needed no convincing. I said if we’re going to do it, let’s get to the bottom ASAP as time is against us. Most reports I read stressed to give yourself two or three times more time going up than needed to hike down.
On the bottom portion below Indian Gardens, we ran into a few high-school or college aged girls who told us we were 1 ½ hours from the river. At that point, we were a bit discouraged. Regardless, in a half hour we had reached the river! They must have thought we meant how far to Phantom Ranch or maybe they were just slow hikers. Seeing the spectacularly beautiful Colorado River surrounded by the canyon walls was unbelievable. We were alone for a bit before four young men from the Czech Republic showed up. We had met them earlier on the way down the Devil’s Corkscrew part of the hike. The Czech’s were planning to hike back up also, but via a shorter steeper trail, the South Kaibab Trail (not advisable as it’s very steep, usually hikers go down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel).
After about 20 minutes of picture taking and fending off a squirrel going into one of our backpacks, I was anxious to begin the challenge of hiking back up. It was around Noon, leaving us with six or seven hours of uphill hiking before sunset. As we left, the young Czech’s were peeling off their clothes and jumping into the cold Colorado River obviously making the most of the experience. Soon, we were on the Devil’s Corkscrew, a steep winding uphill portion of the trail. I stopped for a break or two or three, but eventually made it up this treacherous beginning part of the hike up. After a few hours, we were back at Indian Gardens taking a lunch break. By now, we had hiked 11.2 miles and the steepest part up was still ahead of us. It was more than a challenge. It was a little scary having never hiked down so far before hiking up.
From Indian Gardens, my goal was to make it to the next suggested rest stop called the Three Mile Resthouse 1.7 miles away. Almost immediately, I took a break along the trail as for the first time I felt my inner left thigh begin to tighten and cramp. I knew failing to stop would result in further irritation, and I’d put myself at risk of not making it back up. After drinking some water and resting for five minutes or so, I felt better and moved ahead step-by-step. This pattern continued for hours as the leg cramps were not going away.
Less than 50 yards from the Three Mile Resthouse, I stopped for another break. It was disheartening to stop so close to the Resthouse, but with my leg still bothering me it was the sensible think to do. Once at this stop, a hiker from Colorado told us the next 1.5 mile portion up to the 1 ½ Mile Resthouse was the steepest part of the hike. I had already hiked 13 miles and developed leg cramps. Around this time, we began to see many of the day hikers who hike just a few miles down for a view of the canyon and to experience the trail. Many were very nice, especially those who stopped to offer me food or drink as they saw this weary hiker resting on the side of the trail. One man offered a “salt pill” as he said it would help with my leg cramps. I took it. Another couple said I could have anything I needed out of their pack. This encouragement definitely lifted my sprits.
It was at this point that we ran into to Ludwig and Gustav, two young men from Sweden who had been in the U.S. for three months seeing the sites. After hiking down to Indian Gardens, the two Europeans were on their way back up. We saw Gustav moving quickly up the trail, but Ludwig had two walking sticks and seemed to be taking rest breaks as often as I. My co-worker soon began hiking up the trail with Gustav and I hung back with Ludwig. With additional encouragement, more water and rest breaks, I finally made it to the 1 ½ mile Resthouse. My spirits continued to rise as we ran into a friendly family of four from Boston. I started feeling their energy and luckily the salt pill I took earlier might have kicked in as my cramping slowing started to go away. In fact, for the final portion of the hike, I passed Ludwig and soon caught up with my co-worker and Gustav.
Near the top, the wind gusts were strong and the weather became cold again. We casually walked amongst many tourists towards a popular Grand Canyon viewpoint behind Bright Angel Lodge. Maybe we were all too tired, but there were no high fives or screams of accomplishment. Instead, we just casually chatted and took a few more pictures before heading out. What a day at the famed Grand Canyon National Park!