Updated: May 8
It was my first time going to the Grand Canyon to do anything more than just peer over the edge. My husband and I had trained hard, walking stadium stairs for hours on end and miles and miles of loops around the track. I looked down into the big gorge, and realized this was going to be quite a hike. I could barely see the El Tovar Lodge on the South Rim from where I was standing, and there was a mile of steep cliffs between where I was going to go down and where I was going to come back up. Not to mention the river that had caused all of this was down there somewhere below and I couldn’t even get a glimpse of it, hidden behind all the bluffs and drop-offs.
We woke up very early in the morning and caught the van that was bringing us to the trailhead. I was so thankful to be there with veterans of the Rim-to-Rim experience. The leader of our trip, Arlen Isham, had been running trips there since the late ’80s. My father-in-law, Tim Janak, Sr., had been joining him on almost every trip since the beginning and my husband, Tim Jr., had started going with them when he was only 12. The night before our crossing we got our bags packed with energy bars, water, electrolytes, protein powder, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and an emergency kit. It was still dark when we got to the trailhead, with our headlamps in place and light jackets and shorts. We set out. I was glad to get moving because it was cold.
The trail was nice and wide in some places, and so narrow in others. When I got to the tunnel, I thought “I have gone so far already,” but I was told it was only two miles of our 24 mile journey. We crossed bridges and saw the deep canyon so close. I never thought I would see a swamp in the Grand Canyon, but I did, and I had to cross through the water on a few stepping stones that were barely poking out of the water. The creek flowed so fast, and was cascading off the rocks along the North Kaibab trail.
When we got to Cottonwood Camp, the canyon started to change from lush green pines and sandstone to black rock and desert. The heat was coming on too. The temperature went from 36 that morning at the rim to a blazing 90 degrees.
I remember getting to Phantom Ranch and feeling tired. We rested up for a moment while we refueled. We wouldn’t get water again for another 5 miles and these were uphill miles through an area the experienced hikers called “The Death March.” Soon, I too realized why it was called that. This part of the trail had some intense switchbacks on fine sand between black rocks. This was by far the hottest point of the hike. Those black rocks absorbed the heat of the sun and the sand got in every crevice, slowing our progress as it filled our shoes.
When you are a novice rim-to-rim hiker, you just listen to the advice given to you by those with more experience, and I was told to douse myself in water and to hop into creeks to cool off. So I did as I was told, even though it went against my personal belief system of not wanting to be wet. Each time I wet my body, it felt like ice was being poured all over me or that I was being dunked into an ice bath. But by the time I finished cooling down, I was always relieved from the heat of this part of the canyon.
I could see each switchback as I hiked up. By the time I got to the final one, I was so happy because I was promised an oasis at Indian Gardens. When I saw my first tree, I was elated. There were so many trees ahead lining the path, which gave us our first shade in three hours. The little creek that flowed sounded magical, and people were laughing and having a good time. We rested here a little too long, but I think it was worth it. Sometimes you can be so focused on a task that you forget to enjoy it, and we definitely enjoyed ourselves at Indian Gardens.
By this time, I had gotten my second wind and was feeling pretty good about the hike ahead. We gathered our belongings and hit the trail again. The sun was behind the rim, giving us shade while we walked up the Bright Angel trail. Switchback after switchback, we stopped often on our uphill hike, caught our breath, and continued. You could see it was difficult for some and easy for others; it was tough for me. These last miles took forever. When was this canyon going to release us?
Slowly, we made progress: first, the 3 Mile Resthouse, then the 1-1/2 Mile Resthouse. At only one mile left, I got to the lower tunnel and I could finally see the rim. That boosted my spirits and put a pep into my step. I could see the top, I was almost out! As I got closer to the upper tunnel, and could hear people from my group cheering me on. I was so glad that I was done! When I saw Arlen, our group leader, it was sunset and his smile was priceless. He handed me a victory root beer, took pictures, and gave us our room keys. I looked back over the rim and thought, “I did that!”
Now that I have completed the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim hike, I understand the draw and why people want to return to hike it again and again. The sense of accomplishment when you finish something of that magnitude is amazing. Not only is that feeling incredible, but the sights are too. Only 1% of the Grand Canyon visitors see the sights that are down in that canyon. I got to see them, and it was a day I will never forget!
On October 7-12th, 2021 we will return to the Grand Canyon. We are so excited if you would like to learn about our training program contact us.