For each man sees himself in the Grand Canyon – each one makes his own Canyon before he comes, each one brings and carries away his own Canyon. – Carl Sandburg
In many ways, I came to the Canyon this time defeated and resigned. Resigned to acknowledge my physical limits and an opportunity missed.
In 2007, I came to the Canyon with my senior class. We were young and adventurous. In the sweltering heat of June ’07 we decided to try to hike down from the south rim to the river and back in a single day.By 9:30am the heat was hitting 110+, the sun beat down at every turn, water ran low, faces flushed red, and when we turned the corner we saw a dozen more switchbacks with no water station in sight. A solemn team vote ended in us turning back without seeing the Colorado river. Heat exhaustion and dehydration were setting in. Defeated but thankful, we had escaped that day with no major injuries.
10 years later. I had another chance to face the Canyon.
This time with K, we knew what to expect and what we needed to do. This was 10 years later…I am supposed to be wiser. We planned to hike down the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point. 6 mi each way (12 mi roundtrip) with elevation change of 3080ft. A manageable hike with water stations and bathrooms every 1.5 mi.
What I didn’t know in 2007, I came prepared to this time. Hiking sticks, nuun electrolyte tablets, beef jerky, clifs shot bloks…we were ready.
8:34am: Indian Gardens (4.5mi)
We had made good time and the weather was cooler than we expected when we landed at Indian Gardens. A park attendant the day before had informed us that we were allowed to hike between 10am-2pm because it was later in the year (summer hiking is unbearable at peak heat hours). I wavered…we had planned to go to Plateau Point. stick to the plan. Now that I was here at the fork, I could feel the Colorado river call me.
We went back and forth 3-4 times. This was not wise. It would be an extra 3.4 miles and an extra 1260 ft elevation change on top of the original 12 mi and 3080ft elevation. People have died hiking the Grand Canyon and hundreds are rescued each year pushing too hard and being unwise. K has never been to the Grand Canyon before so Plateau Point and the view of the Colorado river was going to be thrilling. a 12 mi roundtrip hike was doable and we still had to make camp later that night on the top of the rim. That was the safe play.
There are those who enjoy the hike and those who go for the view.
At 10:06am. We hit the river. All the thoughts of turning back 10 years ago vanished.
If only that was the end. Now what awaited us was a 7.7 mi trek back up to the rim with 4340 ft in elevation change to tackle. It was now ~105-110 degrees at the base of the Canyon and we were approaching the dreaded noon heat.
15.4 mi. 4340 ft elevation change. 12 hrs.
I came to the Canyon resigned to my own limitations. I walked away in wonder of the Grand Canyon and it’s ability to give and take away. I walked away with a deep sense of appreciation for the experience we’ve been blessed with and for my amazing wife who literally walked alongside me all the way as I confronted my canyon.
As mentioned previously in this post, many have tried the rim to river and back in a single day and it is absolutely wise not to attempt it. This post is not intended to put park rangers at risk by encouraging others to try this trek. It requires all the following conditions to attempt (many which are out of our control): a solid plan, sufficient supplies, a strong understanding of your own physical limitations and ability to assess your own condition, cooler weather that allows hiking between 10am-2pm, shade and cloud cover for large portions of the hike.