I hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim last Saturday. Today, when I need to pee, I still have to lower myself onto the toilet with the strength of my arms because I’m in too much pain to rely completely on my legs. But it’s ok, because I left my dignity with the park ranger who had to bring my mother to me after I was finished hiking because I was lost, so I don’t really have any problem admitting all of this to you.
So, yes, in case you’re wondering, it went how things typically go in my world: chock full of ridiculousness, with a dash pain and misery, generally amazing and above all an experience I do not regret.
I feel like I could write an entire book about the almost ten hour, 22 mile, more than a mile elevation change both down and then back up trek, but I’ll try to keep it concise.
The start looked like this:
The beginning was a lot like The Blair Witch Project; an excessive amount of stumbling around in the wooded darkness save for a the shaky illumination of a headlamp, plus utter terror. Only instead of being afraid of some woods-ghost, we were terrified a single misstep would propel us off a cliff to our deaths in the canyon below. I did actually bite it at one point and end up on my ass. I’m just lucky I fell away from the canyon edge of the trail. My point is, if you’re thinking of doing this hike, wait until after first light. It’s just not worth the extra time you’ll spend slowly inching your way forward in the dark trying not to die.
Once the sun began to rise and we dropped below the wind at the very top of the canyon, things got a lot more pleasant. My group spread out and I found myself hiking mostly alone for several hours. The scenery was stunning and I’m not gonna lie, I spent long periods of time internally pontificating on the beauty of my surroundings in comparison to life. I took pictures of cliffs and old-fashioned power lines. I took a detour to a waterfall and got choked up at its majesty. It’s possible at one point I decided I should definitely be a motivational speaker or write a self-help book on how marriage is like hiking the Grand Canyon. I’m pretty sure the endorphins down there are laced with something wacky.
My euphoria lasted through lunch at Phantom Ranch and just across Black Bridge:
After that, the landscape took an upward turn and I abruptly cancelled my world-wide motivational tour on the beauty of life and joy of challenging oneself. Turns out I only enjoy downhill challenges. The uphill ones kind of suck.
By hour 8, I was beyond exhausted, in pain, angry and still alone. I hadn’t seen anyone from my group in more than two hours and I was growing increasingly surly. I started taking up the whole trail and glaring the carefree people descending in the eye, daring them not to move over and let me pass. I thought about writing, “Hikers going up have the right of way” on my tanktop, but instead took this series of pictures to vent my aggression:
Once the anger had boiled away, misery and profound sadness set in. During the beginning of the hike I got several, Cute top! comments from people passing (because, let’s face it, my outfit was the best), but by the end, the most common words out of peoples’ mouths were, Are you ok? It took everything I had not to shake my head, burst into tears and beg some of them to hold me and pet my hair until I felt better.
Eventually, though, after at least one session of pondering how long I would have to park myself on a rock before someone who loves me would worry and send help, I crested the rim of the canyon and made it to the top.
Sadly, however, it was not the end of my ordeal. After I looked around fruitlessly for a minute for the bar I was promised would be extremely close to the end of the trail, I called my mother and had this conversation:
Me: Mom, I don’t know where to go. Where are you guys?
My mother: Oh you’re out! Stay right where you are, I’ll walk out and get you… OK, I don’t see you. Where are you?
Me (starting to cry): I’m at the top. This has to be the top. There’s a parking lot and everything. I even asked a lady who was looking at a map if this was the top and she said it was. I can’t hike any more. There’s no where else to go!
My mother: OK, calm down. What do you see?
Me: I see… horses. And a parking lot.
My mother: Horses? There aren’t horses here. Do you see any construction?
My mother: I don’t know where you are.
Me (sobbing): I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM EITHER.
It turned out I had taken a wrong turn just after Phantom Ranch and had hiked out the (shorter, but steeper and not-recommended for ascent) South Kaibab trail instead of the Bright Angel trail like I was supposed to. And in order for my mother to drive over and find me, she and I had to have several more non-sensical, almost hysterical on both of our parts phone conversations, plus she eventually flagged down a ranger who gave her an escort to pick me up. I think from how she described the situation he was expecting her lost daughter to either be 7 years old or grievously injured and was slightly miffed when they got to me and I was just mostly tired and upset I hadn’t yet been served my celebratory cocktail.
I did, however, eventually make it to the bar. And once I had rested and consumed roughly 11 cocktails, I decided the hike was ultimately a great experience. I am going to have to do it again, though, just so I can do the route everyone else actually takes.
Why anyone lets me do anything without a safety buddy, I will never understand.