Friday, February 19, 2010

Grand Canyon Experience

Recently, my daughter declared herself ready for another Grand Canyon adventure.
I adore the canyon. I totally understand how some of the First Nations consider it the center of the world. I fell in love with the canyon as a pre-teen when I read Powell's account, "Explorations of the Colorado River" and saw the stunning IMAX movie. The Denver Museum of Natural History had a huge 3-D contour map of the canyon. I was fascinated. And hooked.

A year later, my family visited for the first time. Much to my surprise, my seriously acrophobic mother allowed my best friend and me to hike down, spend the night at Phantom Ranch, and hike out the next day. We were both 14. It was AWESOME! (And, that is the correct useage of the term "awesome" - the Canyon truly is one of the most magnificent places on Earth.)
I spent a fall during college working at the El Tovar Hotel, hiking sections of trails several times a week, and took two solo trip to Phantom.
Last Thanksgiving, after a 16-year absence, I returned! It was the first visit for daughter and hubby. In an effort to save a few dollars, we got a backcountry permit to camp for three nights. Due to a mild illness the day before, and daughter's desire for another Junior Ranger badge, we didn't get on the trail until noon. We reached the inner gorge at sunset and negotiated the last mile in the dark. We had to scramble to arrive in time for the Hikers Stew dinner. Delicious.

We enjoyed our full day lay-over, except for the rain. What a time to discover that our tent was not waterproof. We wrapped the tent in our emergency blankets and double checked that all clothing was secured in trash bags.
Someone cancelled their dinner reservation that day so we got to eat steak. Yes, it's expensive. But, I swear, Phantom Ranch has the best food, anywhere.
That night, it rained and rained. Well before dawn, daughter says, "It's wet over here." Yeah, I know. "No. Really wet." I heard a splash. My fingers reached for the floor and found a lake. Our entire campsite flooded. There were 2-3 inches of standing water inside the tent. It would have been deeper except the sleeping bags, jackets and spare clothes soaked up gallons.
We stumbled out of our new wading pool into a the misty night. A visit to the restroom confirmed that we were not the only victims. Several of us hung out inside and to wring out our clothes in a bizarre 5AM slumber party.
There was no point trying to get back to sleep. We ate granola bars and started packing.
Water is heavy! Our packs were stuffed for the hike down. We each carried slightly more weight than was truly comfortable. Rain doubled the weight we had to lug out, plus the food we'd planned to eat for dinner the night before. We reached Indian Gardens about 3 in the afternoon. Now, we had a choice. Do we set up camp and suffer through a cold, wet night with saturated gear? Or trust to our flashlights and hike out in the dark? I decided I was less tired right then than I would be after an second cold, uncomfortable, disturbed night.
We went on. More than a year later, I'm still not sure it was the best choice. We are experienced night hikers, through early and late starts, unwillingness to turn back, and long hikes after work. On one of our sunset training hikes that summer, nature rewarded us with a shining glowworm on a rock.
In my youth, I hiked out of the Canyon in six hours. This time, it took almost fifteen. Fortunately, the trail stayed wet and muddy, not icy in spite of the snow on the rim. Our flashlights held up. Daughter got out safely, even though she was hiking in the dark for two hours past her bedtime. Good girl!

Next time, we buy a waterproof tent with a sealed bathtub bottom. Yes, it's heavier than our 1980s castoff, but anything would be lighter than the gallons of extra water we hauled up. We estimated our combined packs weighed 60-70 pounds when we started down. At the top, while begging for a hotel room and sizzling by the Bright Angel Lodge fireplace, we tossed the packs on the mule-ride scale. Over 100 pounds.

Hubby coined a new term. Mule-acious - able to carry heavy loads down and up that grueling trail. We all qualified that trip.

We are the Muleacious Family.

Happily, daughter announced she is ready to do it again.

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