I’ve hiked a lot of amazing places in my life and consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to have done so. Last year was a big birthday year for me. Ugh. So we wanted to do something different. Something “Bucket Listy”. My Birthday is in the winter. My husband had never been to Sedona so we decided to start there and then head to the Grand Canyon and stay at the famous El Tovar Lodge for a few nights. Of course the whole trip was about hiking and great food.
I knew the first time I saw the GC I was going to be emotional because that’s just how I am. I knew it was going to be huge, I knew it was going to be incredible..I just had the proportions all wrong. When I finally got to the edge at Mather Point and we stopped and looked. Not only did it take my breath away, it took my ability to communicate away. I remember being glad I had huge sunglasses on because I wouldn’t talk, breathe and had tears in my eyes. What a geek huh!
It’s truly magnificent. I know everyone says this but you have no idea how massive it is until you’re standing on the edge of it. There are so many layers and areas and everywhere you look it goes on forever. The South Rim is the most popular and easiest access point so it’s the most crowded. 5.5 million people visit every year. Lucky for us, few people are dumb enough to want to go when it’s freezing out.
It had snowed a lot before we got there and we were worried that our hopes of hiking were over due to dangerous conditions. We had bought some cheapie crampons in Sedona and had already used them there.
I knew it was going to be difficult because most great hiking is, but the issue with the GC is that its completely opposite of every other hike you almost ever do, unless you’re a huge canyon hiking expert. Which living in the Midwest right now, I wasn’t. The GC is the opposite of every other hike. Usually you use all of your energy trying to get to the top and when you do you’re exhausted and happy and have your lovely friend named Gravity to help you get down the mountain. Oh no, not here, here you go down at a pretty good incline the whole way and then have to get out. It’s an insane amount of vertical height you have to cover if you’re not used to it.
We decided to start with the Bright Angel Trail because it’s a popular trail and is well maintained. Thank god we had the crampons otherwise our hike would have been about three minutes long and we would have been like the other 99% of people that visit and not go into the Canyon. It was 9 degrees when we started hiking January 3. It was silent, and there were very, very, very, few people. I remember how quiet it was and kept saying to my husband, “Listen to how quiet it is!!” Which I know completely defeats the whole silence part, but I had to know he was hearing or not hearing the same thing I was.
What amazed me the most was how much bigger it is when you are in it. The white band of sandstone that’s clearly visible at the top of the canyon when you look at it from the rim looks tiny! It’s at least 400 feet tall in “real life”. It’s so amazing walking next to it then under it as you descend further into the canyon.
We only made it to the 3 Mile Resthouse the first trip, but we had to use the crampons the entire time. As we came back up to the rim, I knew I had accomplished something incredible. I did something I didn’t think I could. I conquered a fear, and now was addicted. That first time it took us 5 hours to go 6 miles.
We celebrated at El Tovar for dinner and exhausted went back to the room. Neither of us really slept because the hotel is so old and haunty and ghosts love me, but it was still such a great trip.
You have to go IN to the canyon to really appreciate the vastness. You have to be able to stand under the rock layers to experience how tall they are. Even if you are out of shape, you can at least make it to the first tunnel on Bright Angel or to Ooh Ahh point on the South Kaibab.
That was in January 2015, and we’ve now been to Sedona and the Grand Canyon four times within 13 months. I know we are incredibly fortunate to go from never having the opportunity to visit to getting the chance to go that often.
In March 2015 we went and hiked to Plateau Point, a 12 mile hike and only added an hour to out original time. In September 2015 we went back and hiked down past Indian Gardens to the Bright Angel Creek and to the corkscrew. You have to be smart in the Grand Canyon. It’s not very forgiving. It gets extremely hot. You must be prepared, you can have a terrible outcome if you are not.
In February 2016 we returned and did what every single sign tells you not to. We hiked to the Colorado River and back in a day. We descended South Kaibab very early in the morning and went as fast as we could, sometimes running. We stopped briefly at Phantom Ranch, long enough to get a lemonade and a patch proving I made it there. After a brief rest we started up Bright Angel Trail. The whole trip that day was 17 miles, we hiked for almost 9 hours. It was amazing.
The entire point of me sharing this story is to push yourself to do things you don’t think you can. Even when confronted with something so vast and overwhelming, if you work for it; you can achieve it. You can always start small. Each journey is different in some way.