The hike day started way too early. I was up at 2AM, but I think we all were. The room was a challenge – tiny and close, cooped up in bunk beds – especially hard as we were still used to the openness of the river.
About 4:30 we gave up all efforts at sleep and frantically packed up our belongings and lugged our duffels to the weigh station. We all made it under the 30lb limit, marked up our bags, and left them for the mule train. We headed to the canteen for breakfast and forced down some food. I tried my best to gulp some eggs and coffee.
We nervously gathered outside and received a briefing from Jason. The main point: go slow! And then we set off in the dark. We marched silently, single file, back to the Colorado River and crossed it at the silver suspension bridge, the official beginning of the Bright Angel Trail. It was a terrifying crossing for me since I suffer from vertigo – and it was my preview of things to come.
Setting off on the Bright Angel Trail
The first 2 miles were quick, mostly following the river. Then we turned inward to follow the trail and the going got a bit more challenging. Still, no dizzying heights yet, and I began to think that this wouldn’t be quite as hard as I had imagined. I tried hard to follow Michael’s advice to take it slow and enjoy the experience – no rush to the top. Then came a few tense moments as the trail steepened and the heights began to take my breath away. With a struggle, I made it to Indian Gardens at 5.2 miles … and over halfway to the top.
Onward and upward
Then it got really rough. The trail wasn’t just steep – it was narrow and the drop was sheer. Vertigo drained my energy and made my heart race – not good when you’re trying to climb 10 miles and 4,300 feet. Jason found me and we chatted while walking. He gave me some strategies and became my outside buffer on the really steep trails.
Jason - hiking guide extraordinaire
Then we made it to the rest area 3 miles from the top. Surely I can go 3 more miles, I thought. But those last 3 miles represented over 2,000 feet of elevation and it became the most difficult mental challenge I think I’ve ever dealt with. The heights were dizzying and made my heart pound – even when standing still.
Jason was amazing, talking me through the tough parts, distracting me with information about the geology, and coaching me to slow down whenever I tried to walk faster. Periodically, he stopped me and showed me how I had just moved from one Canyon rock layer to the next. We progressed through the muav limestone to the redwall, the supai, and the cocino. At the mile-and-a-half point, I began to think I’d actually make it. The end was the steepest part of the climb with the sheerest drops – but what made it worse was passing the day “hikers” strolling the top mile of the trail. They were energetic and freshly washed. However, they had no idea what the Canyon looks like at the bottom. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the Canyon each year – but less than 1% go to the bottom. I was smug as I climbed to the top.
Eventually … like a miracle … I stepped over the rim. It was complete culture shock: tourists with cameras, children with ice ream. Jason asked if I was okay, vertigo-wise and when I said yes, we kicked it into high gear and raced for the hotel (inconveniently located at the top of a hill. Really? I just walked 10 miles up over 4,000 feet – where’s the shuttle?)
Jason and I reached the lawns of El Tovar to see a few members of our group lounging on the grass. Sam came up to give me a huge hug. “You did it!” Yes we did!
Sunset at the rim
Fresh and clean at the airport the next day, we laughed and reflected while waiting for our flights to take us back home, back to reality. Ingrid asked me what I would be taking away from whole experience.
Two things really …
The first is about self-reliance. I can do more than I thought I could and I feel stronger and healthier for knowing that. The second, however, is about dependence. This activity would have been almost impossible (and not nearly as fun) without this incredible group of strong women willing to support each other so we could all accomplish tasks, overcome obstacles, and realize our potential. In the end – both self-reliance and dependance are critically important. It’s good to be strong and independent, but it’s also good (and more fun!) to ask for help and work together.
So … where will we go and what will we do next? That’s a story for another day …