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Grand Canyon!!!

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“What conflict of water and fire there must have been here! Just imagine a river of molten rock running down into a river of melted snow. What a seething and boiling of waters; what clouds of steam rolled into the heavens” – Major John Wesley Powell
When you have a fascination to travel and see places, missing out an a Grand Canyon adventure will sink your heart. What really is the fascination of the Grand Canyon all about? Could it be that the Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the canyon is dated to about 2000 million years? Or just the idea of watching the colorado river flow quietly at the bottom of the canyon fully aware that this river has slowly but surely exposed 12 geological layers of the earth each identifiable by a unique hue of brown, yellow & red and is now over a mile below the surface the earth?
When the idea of hiking the canyons was proposed to me by a good friend of mine, I had no second thoughts. The idea that the airfares might prove dear was quickly dismissed in all my excitement of conquering the canyons. Well…..after the adventure, the word ‘conquer’ seems almost apt and no longer sounds like just another word in a punchline.
After work on friday the 2nd of june, I headed directly to the EWR international airport to board a continental to Phoenix. After a 3 hour delay including a good 90 minutes of push back delay, the plane finally took off. I was met by my friends at the phoenix airport in the wee hours of saturday morning and then we took off to the canyons. As we drove across the desert flats of Arizona along US64 N, worrying us for a few moments was the idea of not being able to witness the sunrise from beyond the canyons. Even a consistent 90 miles for a good amount of time seemed inadequate as we watched the sun gradually lift the veil of darkness around us as if threatning to steal away the silhouttes of the sporadic trees and bushes dotting the desert on either side of US64. We eventually made it for sunrise and found, to our no surprise, hoardes of people waiting impatiently to witness the same anticipated event. A few applauses immediately after sunrise from some random chinese tourists concluded the spectacle much to our amusement.Registration followed and then a hearty breakfast at a restaurant in the Bright Angel Lodge. So tummies full, we headed out to the board the green line shuttle that would eventually take us the start of the South Kaibab Trail.
South Kaibab Trail runs 6.9 miles and is touted to be one of the more difficult trails that run down the canyons. Hiking from the bottom of the canyon along the S. Kaibab trail during summer is not recommended and even carries some sort of an official warning on almost all maps that detail these trails but since we were descending down this trail, we didnt anticipate many a problem. One of the smartest things we did was to carry plently of fluids. About half way down the trail, we were caught up with exhaustion. The gatorades we carried helped us avoid severe dehydration. The untiring sun beat down on us relentlessly as we trodded along this trail stopping often to let passing mules loaded with tourists looking fresh as daisies by. The lack of humidity makes you stay dry and provides no opportunity for the body sweat cooling mechanism to take effect. The steep descent causes your body weight to pound your ankles and the knees step after step, mile after mile.

The South Kaibab trail features 4 rest areas enroute to the phantom ranch with no water being available for the first 6.4 miles of the entire 6.9 mile hike to the ranch. Our first pit stop known as cedar ridge is a place where you’ll find plenty of people. Just 1.5 miles down the trail, a good number of tourists descend to this point before popping a U-turn and heading back up to the top.
This resting area provides some breathtaking views although it keeps the colorado river carefully hidden from you. Once past this point, our next mark was the Tonto trail junction located 4.4 miles down the trail. With the sun directly above us and almost no shade for the next 1.6 miles, this section successfully slowed us to a snail’s pace. The tonto trail junction consists of a small barn like structure that serves as a shade and a pit-toilet. While we sat down in front of the toilets, I wondered if trekking this canyon right up was a good idea cosidering that the best part of my last year has been spent in a cubicle. (It didnt help that in several places you saw this poster of a macho looking guy and underneath ran a slogan “Last year 235 people were rescued from the canyons. Most looked like him”) There is absolutely no trace of civilization here. An ’emergency phone’ we found wasnt not working, not that we had to use it. The absolute quiet, the light breeze, dried up tree branches scattered around this shack made me feel I got my monies worth. Though a little hesistant to carry on considering the 110 F environs, the temptation of reaching the river provided us with just enough positivity to push on. The following 1.6 mile section proved to be the hardest during the descent. At one of our unscheduled stops, a fresh looking woman probably in her 30s struck a conversation with us. We learnt that her hike had started at 5:30AM from the top of the north rim and she was headed back up the most difficult trail in the afternoon sun! There was absolutely no hint of exhaustion in her voice as she said with a smile ” You guys arent even half way down this trail, keep moving”. Though a little embarrased we found that extremely amusing. Plenty of jokes about this incident followed the rest of the hike. After about a mile from this point, as the trail harmlessly makes a turn, it opens up to some amazing depths. We got our first glimpse of the colorado river. A little muddy looking from that height, the quietly flowing river is a sight to behold. No amount of pictures taken or words describing this does justice to the fantastic feeling that you are instantly overwhelmed with. Across the river, we caught sight of a foot bridge that connects the north rim to the south rim. With these sights growing as we descended, our spirits lifted. A brief stop at this foot bridge for a few photos and we were on our way again. Once by the river, we were met with a park ranger who politely accosted us and enquired about our physical state. Totally beaten physically with no almost no energy to lift a leaf, we spotted a creek flowing by the path. The bright angel creek. We needed no decisions here. The moment we saw this creek, each of us involuntarily headed towards it. The cool of the water brought back some sensation to our sore legs reminding us there was still some life left in them. Though this was quite picturesque, none of us cared for to lift the camera and click away. We needed a bed.
Half a mile later, we collapsed on our beds. AC turned on. I popped 2 aspirins to kill the pain from my left knee that I injured during my descent. After buying some bagels from the little cafe at the bottom, each of us passed out.
The Bright Angel Trail is one of the more popular trails of the canyons. Hoardes of people take this trail some of who make it all the way to the bottom. This trail extends 9.8 miles from the bright angel lodge to the Phantom ranch and sort of levels out after about half way down this trail. This trail features 5 rest areas with water being available at all stops save one.
The Ascent along Bright Angel Trail:
We were up at 4:30 AM to get set for our ascent. After some bagels with cream cheese and some nutri bars, we set out on our hike back up. The initial part of the this trail provides some awesome views of the colorado. Strangely, the colorado river seemed almost turquoise in color as we walked on a footbridge connecting the North Rim to the South Rim at the Bright Angel Campgrounds. The following 4.5 miles are quite easy to hike. There are only a few sections here where the ascent is steep. The rest of this section is more or less a gradual ascent. It helped that we left early to beat the heat of the sun. So most of our first 4.5 mile hike was covered in the cool of a shade. At about 3 miles from the bottom, a stream flows noisily along the trail. I took the chance to soak my t-shirt (Which i did several times later) and wet my hair before proceeding further. The wet t-shirt kept my body quite cool all through the hike. The stream, i later learnt, was formely used by the Havasupai Indians. This stream keeps this section of the canyons very fertile and is evident by the vegetation at our 3rd ‘checkpoint’- the Indian Garden.
At the Indian Garden the trail forks out. One takes you to the bottom of the canyons (our path). The seconds trail takes you to a point called Plateau Point from where the colorado river can be seen. Since this was a good 1.5 mile deviation from the Indian Garden, we decided to skip it.
We spent a good half hour at the Indian Garden feeding squirrels (though you arent supposed to do that!) and making sure our fluids levels were where they should be. It was about half past 11 AM when we set out for our next leg of the hike. Our next interim destination: the 3.0 mile rest house. The section that follows Indian Garden is quite steep and progress is relatively slow. The number of tourists you meet on your way up is inversly proportional to distance to cover.
About half way up the trail as the effect of the aspirin i popped that morning wore out, the piercing pain from my left knee came right back. The only way I could continue hiking was if I used my right leg to climb and the left leg as a support while the right is in swing phase. The pain was becoming more and more unbearable. We rested at the 3.0 mile rest house for a few minutes while I nursed my knee in the shade. We re-wet our t shirts and hair before the steep ascent that would take us to the 1.5 mile rest house. Every time the pain got unbearable I stopped to rest. So the next 1.5 mile took me almost 2 hours. We reached the 1.5 mile rest house at about 2:30 pm and spent about 45 minutes there. We met a ranger there who apparently gave my friends a low down on why their fitness levels arent where they should be. Low sodium level he said. He even got one of my friends to perform some stretching exercises. This I found comical considering that he was atleast 60 years old. Reasonably well rested we ambled through the last 1.5 miles of the trail. At about 4:30 pm, we reached the top. Every muscle in my body made me painfully aware of its existence. Famished and exhausted, we limped to the restaurant for some food. I was absolutely sure I couldnt handle one more nutri bar without hurling all the ones I had eaten during the hike!!! I, for one, had eaten a years worth of nutri bars!!! I wanted some real food. I found the alfredo dish I ordered heavenly. For the first time, I ate mushrooms. I didnt care what I ate as long as I ate.
Its an understatement if I said we were overjoyed to meet at the top of the rim. I beamed as I looked down on the canyons. In the condition I was when we reached the bottom of the canyons the previous day, I had no doubt in my mind that I would land up as a statistic in terms of rescued people. Aspirin is a wonder drug! Aspirin, I bow to thee!! Considering the heat, my injured knee, the cramps, the 110F environs, the exhaustion, I was more than elated when I reached the top.
We started out for phoenix at about 6pm. Close to 2:00 AM I pulled up into a supermarket parking lot. Engine running, AC on, we slept in the car for about 2 hours. 4AM I drove to the phoenix airport where 2 of us got off to catch our flights out from phoenix. As the plane landed in EWR on monday at about 3:30 pm, I realised it was probably my best trip ever.
What a weekend!!!!!!

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Written by Au Fait

June 7, 2006 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Travelogue