This report definitely is anticipated to be a long one. So I suggest you get some hot coffee, take a relaxed position and enjoy (at least the coffee).
The plan- Camp on the rim at Mather Camp ground. Next morning hike down from the rim of the canyon all the way to the river Colorado 4700 feet below using the South Kaibab Trail. Camp there at Bright Angel Camp ground. Proceed the next day upward to Indian camp ground 1/3 the elevation from the ground using Bright angel trail. This trail covers the distance of 5 miles (8 km). Camp the night there and climb the last 4.5 miles on the third day using the same trail.
The weather forecast- 4° C to -6° C at the rim and at Indian camp ground. 15° C to a low of 4° C at the bottom of the canyon! Bad timing- (Someone lied to me that deserts were hot)
The crazy people who wanted to do it- Me, Pi, Dee, Ady (from Chicago) and Vicky, Suds & Swe (from California)
The preparation- Planning, shopping, conference calls, treadmills, practice hikes and of-course determination.
FINALY….the day came. We flew to Las Vegas on 28th afternoon coz its the cheapest fare to a city closest to the canyon. Plus why not check out the hype about the gambling town. Flying over the Grand Canyon, my excitement knew no bounds. From the sky it seemed like one massive crack on the earth’s surface, then you see the Colorado river emerging from it. And then there is nothing else around it. Miles and miles of barren undulated land. Makes you wonder how this tiny river managed such an impressive erosion which would come to be known as one of the 7 natural wonders (yeah, I’m sure) of the world 250 million years hence.
Civilization arrived pretty quick. Now Las Vegas (Lost Wages) is a total different story. The sin city was booming with activity and people with dreams of getting richer the quick way. You could start losing money the minute you enter this place. There are slot machines in the airport itself. Shady limos with shadier people lurk in street corners. The grand casinos and hotels along Las Vegas boulevard (Strip) make the city what it is. All the activity takes place in that one mile long stretch. We drove along the place and did our part of gaping and going ‘wow’ at every casino. Checked into Stratosphere, our hotel…got it for pretty cheap and realized why. It was the last hotel in the strip and didn’t have too much activity going on there, the casino was not great and so was the service. Rooms were comfy and that’s all we cared for as we weren’t here for Vegas.
The California group drove to LV and after we exchanged hellos, got down to business regarding how much food to carry in our hike. We over estimated the amount and carried enough to start a Patel grocery store inside the canyon (could have made lots of money). With Pi and Suds around, there was no talking them out of carrying that much. After packing and re-packing and then again packing, we were still carrying QUITE A LOT! Suds’s pack would have been easily 55-60 pounds (25 kgs)…closely followed by Vicky, Pi and Ady (in no particular order, just in case Ady gets offended). The rest of us were girls and since we are delicate and weaker we had smaller backpacks and carried close to 30 pounds (13 kg). Few perks of being a girl, I will gladly take. Not that our packs were feather light either, we could barely wobble around and take a few steps. Concerned about Suds’s pack, Vicky probed inside and removed a huge box of butter cookies, short bread cookies, candy, some pairs of swimming trunks (swimming ?????) etc etc. Nevertheless, Suds proved to be the strongest. We shouldn’t have worried! Tired, we slept, oblivious to the fact that we were in LAS VEGAS!
Next day, we started our long uneventful drive (5 hours) towards the Grand Canyon en-route Hoover Dam. The drive was very impressive, not a soul in sight. We were flanked by low rocky mountains which looked like land fills and long stretches of desert land. Ideal setting for a sci-fi movie. I was half expecting a space-ship to land here. We stopped at Hoover dam, took pictures around it and also did a mini tour which was so boring that I wanted to demand my 10 bucks back! Ok, maybe some of it was educative. Some trivia-Lake Mead is the largest man made reservoir in the United States. The dam by itself is an engineering feat. It took less than 5 years, in a harsh and barren land, to build the largest dam of its time. Its 730 ft high and is right on the border of Nevada and Arizona. That was by far the most dramatic border change I have ever done. Time increases by an hour right there.
Reached Grand Canyon village before dark and set up our tents at Mather camp grounds. IT WAS COLD! Drove to the rim view point to see what we were going to undertake the next day. WOW..i mean WOW! The sight was spectacular. The mighty canyon was much bigger than I thought it would be. The stratified walls of the canyon looked like a painter’s palette. White on the top, red , then light green and brown in the bottom . Don’t worry, I won’t get into the geographic details now. Also we could catch a glimpse of the rich green Colorado river right at the bottom. We even saw a small trail going down and disappearing behind a cliff. We looked at each other aghast. Naah, I guess we’ll do just fine!
The Grand Canyon village is a big tourist place..buzzing with people taking pictures, buying souvenirs etc. Had a decent dinner at Yavapai Lodge and retired to our tents. We lit a camp-fire. We ended up concentrating on how to keep the fire from burning out and taking pictures that we really didn’t get time to exchange camp-stories (so what if its everyone’s first BIG camping trip) . But the purpose was served , we felt much warmer. I could put my whole self into the crackling fire. It was the best thing. Sleeping in the tent was another thing. We were freezing and trying to catch a wink was proving to be an ordeal for me. Next time, I am investing on a good sleeping bag. Pi was happily snoring! Some people are lucky…grrr.. If I had taken his sleeping bag, he might have not even realized. Finally thinking its close to day break, I sit up to check the time with a flash light….jeeez! its still 1 am!!! This is probably the first time in ages that I wanted this night to end so that I could get out of the tent. With my teeth chattering and Pi snoring, we might have been pretty musical!
We had a late start as we had to repack everything inside our back packs and have breakfast. Got to the South Kaibab trail head by 11 am and began our decent inside the canyon. Carefully we walked in a single file and the group separated into tiny groups as we realized everyone’s pace. It was cold, so me and Pi wore our heavy winter jackets which we realized was a big mistake as we started sweating and had to remove them in half hour. Now we had more to carry!!! Every turn the trail made, a more dazzling sight awaited. We did our share and more of "oohs" and "aahs". The ridges looked like mountains and each ridge had interesting names like Vishnu Temple, Budha’s peak, Trinity peak…We reached Cedar point and the view was breathtaking. I mean it was getting only better. There were clouds on the ridges and the place looked like a dream, very mystical. It began to drizzle….I pulled out my wind-proof jacket (all I had to protect myself from the rain) and placed my winter jacket on the backpack to protect everything else. Pi covered himself with his winter jacket and had a garbage bag for the backpack. Drizzle became rain and now it became very irritating. Both my jackets could take upto 2 hours of rain after which they started giving way. I was soaking. Since I couldn’t do much, we kept moving down and enjoying the view. It was very slippery and one wrong move could cost us our life. We were getting further and further from civilization.
The river was getting closer and closer. The Canyon was so gloomy and the winds were howling and echoing. I still felt very safe. Somewhere down the line, Dee fell , miraculously didn’t hurt her head. She bruised her leg but was able to walk. Pi’s shoulders started hurting a lot and when I caught up with him, he was fine and continued. Rest was one thing we didn’t compromise on, we kept taking rest, drinking and eating along the way that I am sure any weight we shed, we might have easily put on. The canyon walls were growing higher with every tiny step I took.
Finally we saw the river in its full glory! So beautiful and very wet! We had to cross this lovely black suspension bridge to reach Bright Angel camp grounds. I was dead tired, feet aching from climbing down and down and down for 7 hours now. I really could do with some uphill (or better still, a Swedish massage). After the bridge I was ready to throw my back pack and relax. Now we crossed this never ending bridge….not marveling at the beauty of the river under it nor the engineering achievement of its existence nor the magnificence of the gorges that hold it, we were cursing the bridge for being so long! Now you’d think we reached, but this place was not going to let us off so easy. We had to walk another 1/16 mile….the most treacherous part …in the dark and in the rain. Suds, Pi and Vicky had already reached the camp site. Pi came finding us and took my back pack from me(….aaah…nice feeling) and lead us to the camp site. It was a beautiful place right next to a creek called Bright Angel Creek (how obvious!) and on either sides there were huge canyon walls around 100 meters apart. Pretty cotton wood trees were lined up in their fall colors. Oh how I wish this rain stops!
I guess the Canyon was mocking me. The rain wouldn’t stop and continued to bug us through out the night. Now our conditions were worse than the previous night camping. We were not only cold, we were wet too. I was miserable & tired and we decided to jump into the tent and sleep without even eating. The California group were more prepared than the Chicago group in terms of gear and they were more comfortable in their tents and expensive sleeping bags. They came to our camp site and asked us to come out and eat. Suds persuaded us a lot, we were just not able too. Our spirits were very low. Ady and I were emitting maximum negative energy and Dee was the most positive among us. Pi was neutral. I wasn’t sure if I could handle another night like this, so me and Ady decided to hike all the way up the next day. Pi agreed too. His jacket and fleece were all wet too. The rain drops on our tent were getting on my nerves. To think that I was the one who initiated this trip idea, I was not being very helpful in making things better. Ady commented that this was the worst it could get…and I reminded him that there still could be a flood, or a rattle snake and even cougars tearing us into pieces. Like Dee said, there was no use cursing our situation…just take it in your stride. Since I couldn’t, I prayed to the Gods to grant sunshine the next day. Basically I bribed them. Pi slept blissfully (nothing comes between the man and his sleep) and I guess I slept pretty decently too soon after popping a painkiller as I was so tired.
Next morning I was up by 5, tried waking people..only Dee got up. The tent was wet inside…water was dripping from the top and seeping from the bottom. PS- also investing on a better tent. Situation being terrible inside, we headed out to check on the weather and do the needy outside. It was drizzling and cold. I had decided to get going and hike all the way up….pretty tough task knowing how hard coming down was. California people talked me out of it and were very sweet in offering me some extra clothing and saying that we could all huddle into their tent if need be. I don’t know if Vicky would have actually let me sleep in his warm dry sleeping bag….but its that thought which counts!:) I succumbed, knowing very well that it might be suicidal to climb up with the heavy back pack in one day.
Wonder of wonders, Surya deva took pity on me & made his appearance in full form. Aha! We were thrilled! Vicky & Swe made breakfast. Maggi never tasted better….devoured it to the last morsel. Clothes dried up and Pi kept updating us for dark clouds. The temperatures soared, so did our spirits. Last night was forgotten and we headed on our journey up with lot of enthusiasm. Saw a helicopter taking off from the camp grounds maneuvering itself within the canyon. (Helicopters come to bring supplies or for rescue service). Rescue service costs around 3000 odd bucks! Might as well die there! I walked up to the Colorado river and sat there just staring at it. The Canyon just humbles you. With no football or news, it felt so calm. Rest of the gang caught up and we took the Bright Angel Trail , crossing yet another suspension bridge "Silver Bridge". Walked along the river for a while and then had moved into some thicker vegetation. Everywhere we went we had a small creek following us and singing along. Very very pretty trail and flatter too. The South Kaibab trail was great for its magnificent views of the Canyon which kept changing.
Cooked and ate lunch near a creek with an awesome view. Proceeded to Indian Camp ground before day break (luckily). This camp ground was not in a very spectacular setting.. but nevertheless we liked it. Cooked soup and sambar rice with cookies for desert. Whatever it was, we were eating very well! Since we couldn’t have a campfire inside the canyon, we burnt the stove to keep us warm and also to reduce the weight of propane to carry out. There are no trash cans and we have to take back everything we bring.. what a pain! It got very cold and I will not repeat my experience trying to sleep. Overall I was sleep deprived but I didn’t feel it one bit! For hiking the weather was great…for sleeping it sucked! Apart from the gym, I probably needed to practice sleeping inside the bath tub with freezing cold water dripping on my face.
Another day, more adventure. Now the goal was to reach the top. Surely but slowly we started ascending. The backpack didn’t seem any lighter from the first day. What happened to all the food we ate? Every part of body ached, but it was fine. We would be able to make it. The weather was great. Cold, so we wouldn’t sweat. The others reached the top much before Pi and I did. We took lots of breaks and long ones too. We were in no hurry to get out. We talked to lots of people who were hiking too. This 75 year old lady was running ahead of us and she said she’s done this 5 times before!!! Ok she wasn’t carrying such a huge back pack (major comparison!).. People who stay at the Phantom Ranch inside the canyon don’t have to carry so much as its like a little cabin. You have all the facilities and they provide food. You have to book that place 2 years in advance. That’s how popular it is. Also there are mule rides going down and up. There were people who were doing day hikes (i.e they don’t go all the way down). They encouraged us and envied us for doing this. We felt so accomplished and wonderful. The rim of canyon seemed so near yet so far. It seemed like it was growing. The last leg was extremely trying! We reached the end and the top finally!!!!!! Suds took our pictures just as we walked up. Everyone was there - smiling and safe!
Epilogue- We already started talking about another trip like this and I would love to do the Grand Canyon again sometime. It was definitely worth it.