Sunday, May 27, 2012

Grand Canyon - Indian Gardens to the South Rim

To be honest, I had been dreading this day for some time. The problem is not the climb itself, but the altitude problem. About eight to ten years ago, I visited the South Rim and walked down a few hundred yards beyond the first tunnel. On my way back up, I noticed how short of breath I was because of the altitude. The South Rim is at 7000 feet and if you are not used to it, can cause altitude sickness.

We needed to get up to the South Rim by about 11am so that there would be a bit of time before the SUV arrived to take us back to Phoenix. We therefore arose at 4:30 just as the first glow of daybreak could be seen in the eastern sky.

The lights at Kolb Studio on the South Rim were still visible.

And so we packed our backpacks for the last time. To be honest, stuffing tents and sleeping bags into small bags is not my idea of a good time, but it was only for a few days.

I kind of enjoyed the experience of sleeping out but not enough to want to do it regularly. The last time I did something like this was fifty years ago when I was in the Cadet Corps at high school. Camping technology has improved considerably from what it was back then.

The sun hitting the South Rim.

The pole thing where we had hung our back packs.

My backpack, ready to go.

The group photo before we headed up.

Another part of Kelli's job.

It was probably about 5:30 and the sun was well up. Since we traveled at about one mile per hour and we had about 4.5 miles to go, we figured on getting to the top about 11am if we took several breaks.

Interesting message on the sign.

Yet more stairs.

Having almost traversed the canyon and seen the grandeur from the bottom, I knew that the view from the top would not impress me as much again. It's a bit like Niagara Falls. It's impressive when you are at the top of the falls, but a lot more impressive when you are in the Maid of the Mist and the water is pouring down just in front of you.

Eventually we reached the Devil's Corkscrew, a series of switchbacks that just goes on and on.

By now we were well above 5000 feet up and it was getting tougher. Sitting down in the shade was wonderful.

The Corkscrew.

One of the rest huts where we could get water. There was even a bathroom.

Squirrels congregate where there is food. They were all quite plump.

Some of the day trippers resting. Since it was a Saturday, there were a lot of them.

There are not that many bathrooms that have a view like this right outside the door.

On and on and on and on.

I was leading for a while and got a bit too far ahead of the group. Nirjal was feeling nauseous, probably from the altitude, so he needed to take a rest more often. It wasn't a problem since we could use the extra breaks. I was very glad we were taking it so slow.

More of the Corkscrew.

The mule train arrived. The preceding photos don't show all the people on the trail, mostly day hikers. Compared to the North Kaibab trail, this was like I-95 at rush hour.

The next water station.

Sitting down in the shade for a rest.

About 1.5 miles from the top a couple of Park Rangers were greeting those who were descending into the canyon. They would ask what the hiker's plans were and advise those who did not have adequate food and water not to go any further. Further up the trail, we did meet people who had nothing. Not even water.

Most of the day hikers were prepared with day packs. There were quite a few teams of hikers coming down and some already going back up to the top. Sometimes you could see that they looked with scorn at the group of old men with heavy backpacks struggling up the trail at slow speed. When they found out what we had done, we went way up in the pecking order.

Filling the bottles with water again. Even though it was cooler up here than down at the bottom, we still needed copious amounts of water. The air is just so dry.

A rescue phone to call for help. 

We approached the bottom of the Coconino Sandstone layer, the vertical light coloured layer close to the top. I was amazed at how defined the cutover was between the Coconino level and the Hermit Formation below it.

The bottom of the Coconino layer.

I wondered how we were going to climb those vertical walls.

The first of  two tunnels on the way to the top. 1.5 miles to go.

The top, not too far away now.

We were all quite tired now.

More mule poo.

The second tunnel and almost to the top.

There are supposed to be petroglyphs near the tunnel, but we didn't really see them.

Kolb Studio near the head of the trail.

Almost there. Just a few more yards.

We had decided in advance to go out as a team. We all needed each other's help at some stage and I doubt if I could have done this walk by myself.

On a whim, I decided to take a video of my steps walking out of the canyon.

The others following right behind, about to cross the stones in the path marking the end. It's difficult to describe the sense of relief, triumph and accomplishment at finishing the walk. I imagine gold medal winners at the Olympics get the same high, probably even more so.

A couple of group photos to finish off. We got to the top about 11:30, a little later than we planned, but it didn't matter.

Our driver Mike was already waiting for us, so we picked up our duffel bags from the back of the SUV and loaded our dirty clothes into them. We pitied the poor guy having six dirty and sweaty people who hadn't changed their clothes for four days get into the SUV with him. The stench must have been awful.

My shoes were absolutely wrecked. When I showed them to Marianne, she was appalled. Needless to say they did not back the trip back home. There was no thought of having them bronzed.

Kelli then checked that we had left nothing behind in our backpacks and that all the gear was present and correct. Fortunately, everything that went into the canyon came out.

Just before we got into the SUV, Kelli handed us certificates. Narjil reckoned that when he got back to his office, he would take down all his degree and professional certificates and put this one up instead. I know how he feels.

So it was a great adventure. All of us were full of praise for Kelli. Not only did she work her backside off carrying all the food and equipment and telling what to see and look for, but her enthusiasm for just being in the canyon really rubbed off on us. Great job, Kelli!!!!

We headed back to Phoenix, arriving a bit after 5pm. Fortunately, about the same time as I arrived at the motel where I had been picked up, Marianne was there with her friend Paula and husband Fred who whisked me off to their house in Gilbert. A good long shower managed to get most of the dirt off me and with fresh clothes on, I settled down on a very comfy sofa. A large pouff thing was placed underneath my legs and then the magic moment.

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