MARCH 28 - APRIL 11, 2011

     Megan, Lisa and I are the hikers. Megan joined me for a Boucher Hermit loop a few years back, Lisa is the wife of a rafter friend and co worker who thought a fun day hike on the river was to go up Deer Creek, across Surprise Valley and over to Thunder River and back to Deer Creek. This will be my first attempt at a full on backpack since tearing a hamstring and having a meniscus repaired, on each knee, three separate injuries. Basically Iím feeling old and decrepit, but fairly determined. I have been working out regularly and I am hoping it is enough. I have also tried to lighten up my pack with lots of new gear.

     I was up before dawn on Monday the 28th, and left home in a blizzard of thick wet flakes. I hoped I would drive out of the storm soon and within thirty miles of home the sky was lightening up and the snow had stopped. Oddly, the radio played an old John Denver song about the Colorado sky looking like a pearl after a rain. It was an apt description of my surroundings.

     The day grew progressively warm the further west I drove and was great by the time I hit Moab. It is a beautiful drive from my home in Colorado to the Canyon and I made good time with few stops. I arrived on the rim at 1530 local time, gaining an hour with the lack of daylight savings time on the rim. I checked into the Bright Angel Cabin and unloaded my pack to organize and do the final paring down of gear. A short time later Megan and Lisa knocked on my door and we made plans to meet at the El Tovar bar for drinks and appetizers since there were no dinner reservations available.

     After I loaded the essential gear I started whittling down at the extra food and clothes. The morning temperatures would determine what clothing made the final cut. Then I headed over to the bar for a beer, nachos, shrimp cocktail and some of the biggest chunks of fried calamari I have ever eaten. My hiking companions are a few years younger than me with none of the physical rehabbing of recent injuries to contend with. They planned to take the 0700 hikerís express to Yaki point; I decided to try and get an earlier start. We said good night and planned to meet along the trail sometime in the morning.
     A 0500 wake up call had me on a bus by 0630 and I was hiking by 0710. Morning temps were just above freezing but I figured I would warm up soon enough walking. A short way down the South Kaibab and the wind picked up and I was forced to stop and add some layers. Long pants, gloves and a jacket warmed me up and I was comfortable walking again. I made fairly good time in the early morning watching the sun rise as I hiked. My friends met up with me shortly before Cedar Ridge. We visited a while and they said they would wait at the Tip Off for me. I told them they really didnít need to bother, I had the spot if I had a problem, and it is not like you donít meet a lot of hikers on the South Kaibab.

     I have never been fast going downhill. With my knees, and lack of hamstring attachment, it has just gotten worse. So they took off and I told them I would see them when I got there and not to get worried, I was pretty sure I would be there before dark. I donít like to feel pressured to keep up and I donít expect anyone to slow to my pace. I enjoyed the hike, stopping to take pictures when I wanted or just to sit and enjoy the view. I arrived at the Tip Off at 1115 and took a lunch break. By now I have shed a few layers and the hiking temperatures couldnít be better. It was in the low 80ís with clouds moving through giving occasional shade and a nice light breeze blowing. There were several people at the Tip Off having lunch, but Megan and Lisa were no where to be seen and I was glad they hadnít waited for me.

     I took off my boots and ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I was tired and needed the break. I stretched a little and should have rested longer but felt like I needed to make some time. I put my boots back on and headed down. It had gotten warmer at the Tip Off and after hiking down an hour or so I found I nice piece of shade on a slanted rock. I lay down on the rock with my feet up and was extremely comfortable. I think I even fell asleep for a short time. After a ten to fifteen minute rest, I awoke feeling much better. I ate some dried fruit, drank some Gatorade and felt like a new woman. While I felt pretty good, Iím sure I looked a bit odd as I made some of my steps down. I do not trust my left leg with the torn hamstring to step down on, so the big steps I turn sideways and lead carefully with my right leg. It looks odd and while it may not be fast it does get me where Iím goingÖ..eventually.

     A group of people came up behind me and one of the women asked me if I needed help. She said it was obvious I was in distress and they would be happy to take some of my weight off me. They were lightly loaded and Iím assuming staying at Phantom. I thanked her for her concern but assured her I was feeling fine. I just walked funny due to some injuries but I was still having fun. I donít think she believed me, but she continued on down the trail. One of the guys in her group passed me and said, ďDonít mind her, she used to be a nurse and canít help herselfĒ. Then he winked at me. I did thank them for their concern; it is nice how we all look out for each other down here.

     A short time later, maybe 100 feet above the river I see Megan and Lisa hurrying up the trail, carrying some water bottles. They had occasionally asked arriving hikers if they had passed me on the trail, and how I was doing. They asked one group, I can only assume it was the concerned former nurse, and were told I was in serious trouble, cramping up and unable to move forward. As I was moving forward when we met up, it was obvious the tales of my distress were greatly exaggerated, and I assured them I was fine and while not setting any South Kaibab speed records, expected to make it to BA campground under my own power. I might not make it in time for a beer at the cantina, but I was confident it would be before I needed to dig out my headlight. Reassured, they turned around and headed back to camp. I finally arrived at the river and crossed the bridge. Hiking up the creek a man came up behind me and said, ďI want you to know you are my hero.Ē ďWhat?Ē I asked. ďYou are my hero, you just keep persevering, putting one foot in front of the other and you got here!Ē Iím gathering it was difficult to watch me hiking down, but I swear I was having fun.

     Then I passed a man with a prosthetic leg. Talk about putting your stuff in perspective. I was tired and ready to be done, and it had taken me eight long hours, to do a trail I have done in four in the past, but I was finally home for the night. I didnít ask him how long it took him get here on a prosthetic leg, but it was obvious he was having fun being there as well. I found Megan and Lisa in a great camp by the creek and I dumped my pack. I put my food into the ammo cans and I soon had my Eos 1 tent set up and my nest secured. We pass around a few sips of tequila and toast our great day in the Canyon. We boil water for dinner; Iím trying a Mary Jane Farms Southwest Couscous. It is very tasty and at a serving and a half, the perfect amount for a hungry hiker.

     We have reservations for the early breakfast at Phantom in the morning, 0530 at this late March date. I know the nine miles to Clear Creek are going to test me and I want to get going right after breakfast. So I set my alarm early to pack up my camp and take my pack to the cantina with me for breakfast. Megan and Lisa will eat and then return to camp to pack up. The plan works well and I was waiting with the crowd for the doors to open at 0530. I drink some coffee and eat my fill of eggs, bacon and pancakes. As soon as I am done I leave for a last stop at the bathroom and final pack adjustment. I was on the trail by 0610, just light enough to see without a flashlight.

     I made good time in the early morning and made the Phantom overlook within an hour. I plodded along and was soon past the no camping cairns. I was determined not to look at the map every time I rested. I knew where I was going and I just needed to keep moving forward. Unfortunately, the Clear Creek trail wanders up and down, in and out of about a hundred drainages on its way forward to the creek and camping oasis. It felt painfully slow but I was making progress. Megan and Lisa caught up with me as I found some shade and we took a break together. They were doing well and we figured we were about 2.5 miles from camp. I was tired and hoping it was more like 1.5 miles, but realistically I knew 2.5 were probably correct. Megan and Lisa rested for a short time and took off again. I told them I would try and make it by dark, but it might be close. I was tired and knew I would have to stop a few more times, especially before the nasty descent into the Clear Creek drainage.

     I was right. Tired, I found myself looking for any excuse to rest. I ate every time I stopped, and I managed to finally start the descent. It was not yet dark, but shade filled the canyon bottom and light was fading fast. The frogs started to sing as I neared the bottom and their energy carried me my final steps to home. It had taken me an absurdly long 12.5 hours, but I made it. I set up camp in record time and had water boiling for dinner. We passed around the tequila, ate dinner and went to bed planning on sleeping until we woke up. We didnít wake up until 1000. I think we were tired. We lounged around camp all morning and finally around 1400 I decided I would walk to the creek and pump some water, then head upstream a ways. Megan and Lisa were not moving from camp. I knew I needed to move a little to avoid freeze up.

     I followed a great trail with several creek crossings. It felt good to move and I found a nice place to sit and pump some water. I wandered up to where I thought the ruins should be and I am pretty sure I was close, but was unable to find them before I turned around for camp. Going back didnít take as long as hiking up and I wished I had looked a little longer, but it was also nice to get back to camp and relax. I was dancing a fine line trying to stay mobile; those of you over 50 know what I mean. We had a couple of nice neighbors when I returned; two guys from Phoenix had hiked in and were staying for two nights.

     Megan and Lisa had a relaxing day at camp, only walking a short distance downstream. They said a couple of back country rangers had passed through shortly before I got back. They were checking out the cat hole situation and monitoring the Wag Bag compliance. They didnít hang out long as they had to meet a raft at the river for a ride back to Phantom. We sat around waiting for dinner to rehydrate and listening to the frogs singing their evening song. Clear Creek is not as clear as it was this morning and we assume the warm temperatures have started the snow melting off the North Rim. Lisa was a little paranoid as she had had a dream that we had gotten washed away in a flash flood. There had been no rain in the area in a week, nor was any predicted, and we were camped as high above the creek as we could get. Of course, it was on top of a flash flood debris field, but it was the highest place around. With the water getting muddy it did nothing to ease Lisaís fears.

     In the morning, our third at Clear Creek, the water was definitely up and muddier. Our campsites were safely high and dry however. Megan and I decided to walk upstream again, Lisa stayed behind to relax and meditate. The creek crossings were more interesting today with the higher water, but still not overly difficult. We walked to the place I had reached yesterday and explored a little further upstream. Still no luck with finding the ruins, but we enjoyed the hike all the same. When we returned to camp the neighbors had been by to ask about borrowing a water filter. They were having some issues with theirs and said they would be by after dinner if it was ok. We settled in, pumping our own water and cooking dinner. The neighbors came by to tell us they had figured out the problem with their filter and it was working fine now. We were all planning an early start back to Phantom in the morning, so no one stayed up very late.

     I set my alarm for 0400 as I wanted to be hiking at 0500. I just seem to do better getting some miles under my boots before my mind wakes up and asks what the hell I think I am doing to my body. It took me 13 hours to get to Clear Creek and we have dinner reservations at Phantom tonight, I want to get there in time. Megan and Lisa want an early start as well; I think they have their sites on a cold Tecate before noon. So the plan is, I get up, eat, pack and wake the ladies before I take off in the dark. It is a good plan, but I wake with a start and look at my watch. It says 5:00. Double damn, there may go dinner at Phantom. Oh well. I fire up the stove and heat water for coffee. I pack up my tent, ground pad, sleeping bag and stuff them in my pack in record time. I lace up my boots, mix up some Gatorade and stash my lunch in accessible pack pockets. I eat a granola bar and a couple of oatmeal cookies for breakfast, washed down with three cups of coffee. The stars are twinkling in a moonless sky. I look at my watch and at the sky and think it should be getting light soon. I look at my watch again and notice it says six PM. I must have changed the time instead of turning on the alarm. I have no idea what time it is, other than the positions of the dipper in the sky. But with my astronomy skills it could have been anywhere between dark and dark.

     With the caffeine from three cups of coffee coursing through my veins I decide I may as well start hiking no matter what time it is. My pack is ready, I am ready, and it is time to start. I load up my pack and walk over to the tent Lisa and Megan are sharing and wake them up. I tell them I have no idea what time it is, but I am leaving and they are on their own for a wake up call. Lisa checks her watch. It is 0500 and I start hiking right on time. Go figure. It is pretty easy picking my way up the trail by headlamp. The cairns are big where it is important and it really isnít bad not being able to see the exposure on the way up out of the drainage. I reach the top in an hour or so, just in time to turn off the headlamp and put it away. I am making pretty good time and feeling good now that I am on top and the walking is generally easier, with a few exceptions going through one drainage or another. Lisa and Megan catch me as we round Demeray Point. We chat for a short time and I tell them to check us in for dinner and breakfast and get us a great camp site along Bright Angel Creek. I asked them to get me a doggie bag if I didnít get there in time for dinner. (We had forgotten if we were the 1700 or 1830 seating. I was fairly sure I would make it by 1830, but not positive I could make the 1700 one).

     Lisa and Megan headed on down the trail and I resumed my plodding. I was feeling pretty good and felt like I was making good time. I decided I wanted a beer at the cantina before they closed at 1600 to do dinner prep. I kicked it up a couple of notches and cut my rest breaks shorter. There was a thin, high cloud cover and a nice breeze to control the temperatures. Our neighbors passed me up and we exchanged words of encouragement. They had watched me climb up out of the drainage by flashlight this morning and were interested in the difficulty of hiking out in the dark. I explained it didnít bother me and I didnít find it difficult to stay on the trail in the dark. This strategy also gives me the advantage of getting some miles in before the heat of the day. Not being able to see the exposure is an ok thing too, in my opinion anyway. Your experience may vary. Then they were off, their goal a beer in the cantina as well.

     As I walked along all of a sudden an injured squirrel burst out of the brush and tried to run down the trail. I could feel its panic as it looked like it had a problem with a hind leg. I felt terrible for the suffering it seemed to be enduring but knew there was nothing I could do to intervene. Then I heard the high call of an eagle and wondered if it had dropped its prey. I waited for the animal to get into some brush and I walked around it. I hoped the eagle claimed its lunch soon.

     There are maybe three places of shade along the Clear Creek Trail and I was ready for a break when I met up with the neighbors again. They were just finishing a break in the shade and almost ready to take off again. They thought we were very near the cairns marking the camping boundary. I didnít think I had made that good a time, but a check of the map and a look around encouraged me a lot. It was only noon and I was less than three miles from home. I was now pretty sure I could make the Cantina for a beer as well and that motivation put a new spring in my step. I also had a great view of the South Kaibab trail and the South Rim. I got out my cell phone for the hell of it, and had two bars. I called Joanne at home and had an interesting chat from the Clear Creek Trail as I drank some Gatorade and ate some gorp.

     The breeze picked up and clouds covered the sun on occasion making for pleasant hiking conditions. That section of the Clear Creek trail is wide and easy walking. I made the Cantina at 1400, where I promptly devoured a bagel, lemonade and a beer, and generally celebrated with the neighbors who were on their second or third Tecate. They were lamenting the thought of their freeze dried dinner and I told them to ask the crew if there were any meals available tonight. As luck would have it, they got the last two steak dinners that night and were extremely pleased with their score.

     Nine hours from Clear Creek to Phantom was a long time, but better than the nearly 13 it took me to get out there. Now I just have the day on the Bright Angel Trail to the rim. The trip is almost over and as always, I am tempted to run away and hide somewhere, but alas, I donít have the provisions, and there is that job that pays that mortgage. Then there is my partner, friends and four legged ones I a missing. I never really worry about the hike out. I know if I put one foot in front of the other I will eventually get where I am going. After a time visiting in the Cantina and refreshing my energy, I load up my pack and head for camp. Lisa and Megan are surprised to see me so soon, even more so to find I have been at the Cantina for an hour. I set up my tent and stake it down well as there are 50 mph wind gusts predicted for this evening and tomorrow. The ranger stops by to check the permit and asks about the Wag Bag experience. We talk for a short time and he moves on to the next camp. Some odd ball kid with IPOD ear buds in walks by rapping the F word at the top of his lungs, past several camps, many with kids, and I think there really should be a better screening process for folks coming down here.

     Turns out we have dinner at 1830 and the winds pick up right around 1700. We secure the camp and stretch out a little before dinner. We head over to wait with the others for the veggie and beef stew dinner. It was worth the wait and we eat our fill. We are too tired to hang around and party after dinner and we head back to camp after the chocolate cake. The winds pick up in earnest now and we are sandblasted all night long. It does not make for a restful night. The alarm goes off at 0430 for breakfast at 0500. I packed what I could, and we headed to the Cantina for breakfast. I was tired and had a few cups of coffee. Breakfast was delicious but too soon it is time to head up. I left Bright Angel Camp at 0611, leaving Megan and Lisa to pack up their stuff, catch and pass me later on the trail.

     The River Trail is nice in the early morning shade, but my butt is dragging. I start to wonder if I will have the energy to get out of here. I know this is a mental issue and I fight to change my thoughts to, of course I will make it out, it just might take all day. And just where else would I rather spend a day anyway? I finally make the turn up Pipe Creek and stop at the rest area to use the facilities. I meet up with a couple of ladies who I had spoken to at Phantom. They had wondered then how a person could load up a full pack with no assistance from another human. I proceed to demonstrate the procedure for them and I am ready to move on. The issue had come up when they saw me arriving at the Cantina yesterday. I plod along and feel ok as I near Indian Gardens. I am passed by a couple of mule trains and I donít mind the excuse of finding a sitting rock off the trail to watch them go by on.

     I take a break at Indian Garden and probably should have found a quiet place for a short nap. Instead I ate and drank and chatted with a group of young men who were new employees of the Park Service. This was one of the first few days off they had in a row and so they got a permit to hike to the bottom for the first time. I heard them comment about the lack of air noise and just what was all the fuss about right now. I told them they didnít hear any of the noise because they were hiking in a no fly zone. I suggested a little Dripping Springs, Waldron Basin day hike if they really wanted to experience life in the fly zone, or a trip down Boucher. I think they were surprised that this grandmotherly looking woman with some really high tech gear and a full pack was complaining about air traffic noise in a place they were just starting to explore. It still makes me smile to think about.

     After a while it is time to move on and up. I am so tired but mentally know I am more than half way home and that is encouraging. Still I feel like I am crawling along. I am tired of the gorp, dried fruit, granola bars and I finished my last peanut butter and honey sandwich at Indian Gardens. I should have dug out my jerkey, but I kind of forgot about it. Iím feeling pretty good at the Three Mile Rest House and was down right relieved to hit the Mile and a Half House. I took a break there, choking down more gorp and dried fruit and a half liter of Gatorade so I donít have to carry it on my back anymore. Of course there are more and more people to talk to the higher I get, lots of words of encouragement. I finally top out around 1610. I can almost feel the hot shower, but first I must check in. I head directly for the Bright Angel Lodge and drop my pack to dig out my credit card and ID. I get checked in and get directions to the cabin. I mention not wanting to pick up my pack one more minute and the young man checking me in says they have Bell service. Really? I said I would be more than happy to pay someone to haul my pack to my cabin. After all, I had been having fantasies of offering passing hikers $100, $1000, and then $1,000,000 to carry my pack the last miles for me, the price increasing the higher I climbed. A Bellman tip to the cabin was no problem.

     The nice young man picked up my pack and led the way over to my cabin. It would have taken me some wandering around to find the correct cabin and I was just too tired to wander with the pack on one more minute than I had to. He opened the door to my cabin and dropped my pack for me, I tipped him $10, it was the smallest bill I had and well worth it to me. I limped down to the bus stop and went to pick up my Jeep. Once upon a time I would have walked the quarter mile, today I was happy to sit and wait for the bus. I called Joanne and chatted while I waited. It was a quick trip to get the Jeep and soon I was standing under the hot shower at my cabin. I met up with Lisa and Megan for dinner and catch up with life on the rim while we were gone.

     Back to the cabin and in bed by 2100, just couldnít keep my eyes open. We decided to blow off the group breakfast at the El Tovar, so in the morning I showered again, checked out. I grabbed a large coffee at the coffee shop and drove to the General Store for the obligatory T shirt. Then out to Desert View for a coffee refill, breakfast sandwich, and a hat for Joanne. Then I am driving out of the park towards Colorado. It was another beautiful day for a drive through the desert to home. Another grand, Grand Canyon Hike completed.

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