Getting a Kelly Carwash

Where EG's starting to wish she had moved to warmer climes when she had the chance..

Friday, September 23, 2005

I finally believe Mom when she says being in Arizona is like being in Hell.

I woke up this morning in a terrible panic. In my barely awake state I was sure I was back at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and I was almost in tears at the thought of having to climb back out. I’ve been having half-a-wake dreams like this ever since I got back. I’m sure Andy thinks I’m being over-dramatic (Me? Over-dramatic? Never!), but I’m sure I’ll never forget the feeling of total helplessness and terror I had during the night we spent at the bottom of the canyon, in the hell-like heat, knowing I’d have to haul myself up and up and up. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Our trip started off with about 24 hours in Phoenix followed by a couple of days in Sedona, where I learned that if anything strange happens you can blame in on the Vortex. I’m going to skip over this part because, well, it’s pretty boring. We spent a lot of time with family, but that was about it. Besides, if I don’t hurry up and write about the canyon, I’ll loose my nerve. All you really need to know is that I didn’t sleep. At all. The entire time we were there. So that’s 2 nights without sleep, and be sure to keep a running total.

Wednesday, we drove through Flagstaff and up to a town about 2 miles from Grand Canyon Nation Park. We checked into the hotel and drove a block to the visitor’s center, which was built and maintained by National Geographic. We bought our park pass and watched a ½ hour IMAX on the canyon that was outstanding. We then hopped back in the car and drove the 8 miles to Mather Point, on the South Rim. The views were amazing (see pics below) and we were able to pick out part of our trail. At this point, it didn’t look that far down. What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were only looking at the bottom of the upper canyon. There was another 1500 foot drop through the lower canyon down to the river that we couldn’t see at all.

We found the spot where we would catch the shuttle the next morning to take us to the trailhead and then headed back into town. We ate at the Yippee-ey-oh restaurant (where the food and service was as terrible as the name) and then, after what seemed like days, went back to the hotel. At this point I was getting really nervous. And, after 2 days without sleeping, was nearing exhaustion. Which meant that I was REALLY cranky. I mean, big time. Not that it really matters, but I felt like confessing since I was pretty hard on everyone else.

We got back to the hotel and I finished packing a few things and then crashed on the bed. We had to get up at 4:15am so we could get most of our hiking done for the day in the cool morning, so I knew it was going to be a short night, but figured I’d be out the minute my head hit the pillow. That’s not quite what happened. About 15 minutes before the alarm was supposed to go off I was still wide awake, running through each and every possible bad thing that could happen and how I would handle it. In other words, night number 3 without sleep.

(My stomach is starting to churn… I need to get through this quickly…) After a quick trip to the shuttle stop and a short ride to our trailhead, we exchanged picture taking duties with another couple and took off down the South Kaibab trail. It was light out, but we had about 20 minutes before official sunrise.

Down and down we went. Our spirits were high and we laughed and chatted and took a million pictures. One of our biggest sources of amusement was the trail itself (which, further down, we would curse over and over again. I had originally thought that since the trails we were taking were 2 of the most popular in the park that they would be darn close to being paved. But, because they were used by mules hauling people and gear to the bottom and back several times a day, the mule’s hooves created 6 inch deep divots in the trail at about 2 foot intervals. So we were faced with either taking artificially altered strides in order to stop on the tops of each divot, or risking turned ankles by stepping in the bottom of the divots. And we really didn’t want to step in the bottoms because that’s where the mule poop was. Tons and tons of green, smelly, squishy mule poop everywhere we looked. At the end of the 2 days, we had been so overexposed to it that none of us even noticed it any more. But at this point, we didn’t care a bit. We felt good, it was nice and cool out, and the views were indescribable.

A couple of hours later, we took our first break. I had planned on breaks every ½ an hour, but we were going quickly and easily, so why stop? But what we didn’t realized was that each step put more and more stress on our backs and knees, and without those more frequent breaks we were causing some bad bruising to our muscles.

It was approaching 105 degrees by the time we reached the rim of the inner canyon and we began to realize the serious mistake we had made by pushing ourselves so quickly down the trail (and by having too-heavy packs). I had pulled a muscle in my right calf and was limping with every step. Andy and Jason weren’t doing much better. However, at this point, since it was getting so hot and we were way past the point of no return, we knew we needed to get to the bottom quickly. But about 15 minutes after we started down the inner canyon, I knew I couldn’t do it any more. Each step was excruciating. I was in tears, partly because of the pain and partly because I was so damn tired, but we could still barely see the river below. I knew we still had at least another hour left, but I couldn’t imagine taking one more step. This is when Jason, for the first but not the last time on the trip, came to my rescue and took my pack for me. That was the only thing that allowed me to make it. What should have been one of the best parts of the trip, crossing the Colorado via a large suspension bridge, exists as a fuzzy recollection of surprise that the bridge didn’t swing at all. I was on empty. Each step was torture. (My eyes are tearing up just thinking about it.) Then finally we arrived at our site. Afraid of sitting down and not getting back up, we set up our tent and what gear we could. But it was so hot. One of us wandered by a thermometer in the sun and noted it was pegged out at 140 degrees (it was 113 in the shade). Luckily, there was a cold stream running through our site that both kept us cool and helped our sore muscles. It only helped so much, though, and within an hour of reaching our site we were almost unable to walk. We couldn’t lift our feet and had to shuffle along like we needed walkers.

Our time at the bottom passed in a blur. I remember visiting a cantina and drinking lemonade. I remember part of a ranger talk on California Condors. At some point we must have made dinner over our stove and bought more food for the next day. And we definitely spent a lot of time in the water, which was the only thing that made the heat bearable. But I do remember this, though, clear as day. I didn’t sleep a wink. (Fourth night in a row.) It never got below 100 degrees, even in the middle of the night. And to save weight, we hadn’t brought sleeping pads. And we were planning on getting up at 3:00 am so I was nervous we would oversleep.

My vigilance paid off (despite the fact that I was almost hallucinating from exhaustion) and we were on the trial by 3:30. We started off shuffling around through the dark, but soon our muscles loosened up. Knowing the first 2 ½ miles were relatively flat, and that it would soon get very warm, we pushed hard. Before we knew it, we were out of the inner canyon. A mile or so later we hit Indian Garden, the half way point, and we had only been on the trial for 3 hours. Only 4 ½ miles to go, with water and shelter ever 1 ½ miles along the way. But the next 4 ½ miles were all steep switchbacks, and over 2 hours later we had only made it to the first shelter. I was in tears, yet again. All I wanted to do was see Mom, who I knew was waiting for me at the top.

Jason and Andy again saved me by taking my pack for the next mile and a half. Back and forth, up the switchbacks we went. Again, this section went by in a blur. But then, I spotted the shelter that was 1 ½ miles from the top. There were rangers there who told us exactly what to expect on the next leg, and who made sure we were cool and rested before they let us push on. There were also close to 100 people on the trial with us now, most of them day hikers who had come down to this point and were now heading back up. Because there were so many people, I took my pack back and let Jason push on ahead to the top. Andy and I got into a rhythm of stopping at every shade spot, which happened to be after every other switch back.

At about ½ a mile from the top, we ran into Jason, sans pack. He had made it up, found Mom and Dad nervously waiting for us at the trail head, dropped off his pack, and come back down to find us. He took my pack yet again and handed me a walkie talkie. Mom was on the other end promising me I was almost done and that she would have a diet coke waiting for me when I made it. She sounded almost as relieved to hear from me as I was to know how close we were. Then Jason pointed out the end of the trail and I realized I could actually make it. Before I knew it, I was in Mom’s arms. Later that day we tallied up how long it actually took us to come back up and realized we did the first 4 ½ miles in 3 hours, with the last 4 ½ miles taking us 6 hours. Also, I found out that the reason Mom was so nervous was that 2 people had died and one had been seriously injured during the two days we were in the canyon because of the heat.

The drive back home went amazingly fast, but then again, I was engrossed in the new Harry Potter book. The three of us were back to our shuffling, though, making Mom and Dad wince as they watched us try to walk. It took well over a week for Andy and I to get back to normal, and we still both have pains in our knees that weren’t there before. Jason and Andy say they would do it again, but with lighter packs, and in the spring. I, on the other hand, doubt I’ll ever try it again. I still get nauseous thinking about the experience, and will have nightmares about it for a very long time.