Thursday, 10 December 2015
Friday last week (4 December) we were outbound to Williams, Arizona, prepared (we thought) for a descent to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, to Phantom Ranch Resort: a day at the bottom, and an ascent on the following Monday.
All began well. We met with our Tucson companions, one of whom had arranged this hike, at the Bright Angel Lodge. Collecting our (minimal) gear, we boarded the park bus for the slow transit to the head of the South Kaibab Trail.
Decanted from the bus at last, we set out downward. The first third of the trip went swimmingly. The trail is rough and steep, the “steps” between embedded logs hollowed by the passage of many mules. We stop briefly at Cedar Ridge, drinking in the view and also some water, nibbling at our trail rations.
On we go, toward Skeleton Point. Somewhere between Cedar Ridge and Skeleton Point, I begin to experience a strange phenomenon. I feel as if I am leaning backward, pulled off balance by my pack. It is not a heavy pack, so ??? It takes a while to figure it out, but finally, I know.
My old friend, Iliotibial Band Syndrome, has attacked. It is painful to bend the right knee. Therefore I am putting the right foot straight down at every steep step, then leaning back (with pack dragging) and swinging the left foot out and around.
It is all very precarious. I stump and teeter my way down. Somehow I manage, led by Bob who stays close, to make it the rest of the way. I can't stop to sit down or tighten shoe laces or rest. I might never get up again, and getting up is a struggle as I learn twice when I pause. The best thing to do is keep going.
Finally, having departed the rim at 11 a.m., we arrive at Phantom Ranch shortly before 5 p.m. Our hiking companions have been unfailingly supportive, waiting for us to catch up at critical junctures. Bob is hiking with a tender ball of the right foot (“turf toe” he tells me it is called), so he is also suffering from an abnormal gait.
I began this trip boasting to our companions that I am in better shape than the last time I did this hike. I alone am sure that this is true – otherwise I would never have survived the 5 miles or so of agony, off balance on the steep, rocky trail.
A hot shower and some ibuprofen soothe the body and the soul. We are second seating at dinner, 6:30 p.m. Beef stew, cornbread, salad – fills the belly. Chocolate cake for dessert. Sleep this first night is fitful. We awake in plenty of time for our late breakfast call.
Sunday is our day at the bottom. Our Tucson companions hike to Ribbon Falls. Bob does a short hike toward the falls, choosing to rest his foot. I rest. I talk to the concierge. I am told that the park never puts a “medical” on a mule – too much physical effort. My options are to walk out slowly, or find a ranger and ask for a helicopter evacuation. I will walk.
I rest. The right knee feels better as the day goes on, and I manage to work the kinks out of my lower back. I may be just fine.
Our companions return from Ribbon Falls with spectacular pictures. We are at the early seating for dinner tonight – steaks! I eat all my baked potato and veggies. The remainder of our steaks Bob and I slice up and bag with A1 sauce for lunch tomorrow.
Tonight's sleep is much better than the last. We rise early for 5:30 a.m. breakfast. This meal is pretty standard at Phantom Ranch – scrambled eggs, bacon, small pancakes, canned peach halves – but offers plenty of protein.
Bob and I pack up some of our stuff in a duffle (read feed sack) and send it up via mule. We hike up the Bright Angel Trail. We leave at 7 a.m., first light. The first part of the trip, to Hanging Gardens, is easy. We take a rather long stop here, and then set on the final 4.6 miles.
The trip up goes well. I think perhaps our companions cut me a little slack? We stop briefly at 3 mile and 1.5 mile on the way up. We are at the top by 1 p.m.
I am less than 10 minutes behind the rest. This is very different to the last trip, where I was at least a half hour behind. Maybe I really am in better shape? I know I am.
Thanks, Tucson friend Bob W., for the opportunity. My big toes are bruised beyond recognition, but I am so happy to have made the hike. But I don't want to see any trail mix or protein bars for quite a while!
It has taken me more than a week to recover mentally, thus the late post. Yoga on Thursday last was much appreciated physically, as was yesterday's walk in the Rademachers. Next time it's down AND up Bright Angel.