Tuesday - 05.08.01
Kurt and I stirred around 10:00am and donned the clothes that we would be imprisoned in for the next three days then grudgingly gathered our bags and packs. Because we were unable to fully load our packs the night before, this was the first time we really put our packs on – wow, they were so much heavier than we (or at least I) had anticipated. Would I be able to survive?
The first real order of business was to obtain gas for the Sunfire (oh, just think of the names we had for this car…) so we stopped at a filling station across from the motel. While we were there, we decided maybe one last bit of ‘human’ food might taste good, so we purchased an Oscar Meyer Lunchable and a bit of Gatorade.
As we ventured toward the park entrance, we were inundated by an immense amount of traffic – definitely more than the night before. After waiting in line at the entrance, we discovered there was a $20 per car entrance fee for the National Park. Alternatively, we could have paid $50 to gain access to all national parks, but since we were taken off guard we just didn’t know how many other parks we would visit this year. Once we paid our dues, Kurt and I proceeded west along the rim to Grand Canyon Village. Our maps told us that we would be able to access the Bright Angel Trailhead on the west side of the village, and sure enough we managed to find a sign for it. The next trick was to find a parking spot. Somehow, we managed to find a shaded stall (OK, it was a makeshift stall) about ˝ mile from the trailhead. Kurt and I reluctantly donned our packs, waved goodbye to the car and air conditioning, and started off on our adventurous trek. In stark contrast to the night before, there were throngs of people everywhere and we followed them toward the Bright Angel Lodge. Once in the vicinity of the lodge, it took Kurt and I a minute to locate the trailhead as it was not clearly marked from the road. At about 12:30pm, Kurt and I walked a few paces down the path, then stopped to take an initial picture of what we were about to undertake before continuing the journey into the great unknown.
Oh yeah, and the degree of declination was relatively constant, alternating between switchbacks and straight sections. The rules of the trail give up-hill climbers the right of way – Kurt and I did our best to observe this as we knew we would need all the help we could get when it was our turn to hike out of the hole. We nervously noted how beat up and tired the people climbing up the trail appeared. This was not the most encouraging thing to see.
As we hiked, Kurt and I dictated from the trail guide regarding the different points of interest, highlighting many of the geological and historical points along the trail. We also taught ourselves about the wildlife and vegetation surrounding us from the information contained in the trail guide. This guide was a very useful purchase prior to our trip and we would recommend that other make the same investment.
Considering that we were only hiking about 4.5 miles this first day, it was supposed to be one of the easier days of our adventure. In addition, the trail had water stops at the 1.5 and 3.0 mile mark. Day hikers were allowed down to the three-mile house but were discouraged from hiking beyond this point. Many of the day hikers we encountered were sadly ill-prepared. We saw many of them wearing sandals or running shoes. We also noticed quite a few people just carrying a single bottle of water or no water at all. Good thing there were watering holes along the way on this trail – not all the trails in the Grand Canyon have the luxury of fresh water – or any water at all for that matter. The age range and physical ability of the hikers varied widely and this gave us hope for our own trip up in a few days.
Hiking down the trail didn’t seem too tough physically, but judging distances was difficult. Just getting to the 1.5-mile house seemed to take us the equivalent of 3 miles on flat land. Walking continuously downhill (there were no flat areas or ‘uphill’ areas in which to ‘take a break’) wore on the balls of my feet as well as the tips of my toes. Good thing our shoes were good and broken in. Our packs, on the other hand were either getting lighter or we were getting used to them. Kurt and I purposely stopped every so often to sit down in the shade and drink a bit of water. Most of the signs we saw recommended drinking a gallon of water a day at a minimum in the heat.
However, it was all worth it to watch the vegetation, wildlife and geology change as we hiked deeper and deeper into the gorge.
Once we passed the three-mile house we noticed the number of hikers decreased dramatically. The foliage also changed considerably as we moved from a forest to a desert environment. Kurt and I stopped about a quarter mile past the 3-mile house for lunch. We dined on dried apricots, canned tuna and crackers, and granola bars. The snack managed to bring our energy levels up dramatically, so we continued on (like we had a choice) to Indian Gardens, our stop for the night. Since leaving to the rim that morning, we had dropped 3060ft in elevation. Our campground was nestled in a grove of trees near the Redwall Limestone layer. Near our campground, there was also an artesian well that came out above the shale layer immediately below the Redwall Limestone. Thankfully, Kurt and I ventured into the campground and walked down the main corridor, finding only 3 campsites left open. All the campsites were very nice – each site had a bear pole and a small covered picnic table with two bear boxes for food (were they trying to tell us something?). We initially picked the southern most campsite in which to pitch our tent and gear. After setting everything up, we realized how close we were to the main entrance of the campground as well as the main trail itself. Consequently, we picked up everything and moved down one campsite. Much better. Ooo – I did forget to mention that prior to unpacking, we shed our boots and donned our flip-flops? What a relief! When all the chores were done, we sat down and enjoyed our accomplishments for a few minutes. Once we felt rested, we decided to explore our surroundings a little more. Kurt and I headed down the Plateau Point trail (plus flip-flops, minus packs) to see what could be seen. This was the first time we were really able to achieve a good panoramic view of the main canyon from below the rim. Considering it was nearly sunset, the shadows on the north rim were astounding. We didn’t make it all the way out to the point since we were tired and our flip-flops were not the best trail shoes, although later we wished we had as we learned there was a great view of the river from the point.
He asked us for our permit and told us to hang it on our tent or bag at all times while we were in the Canyon. Possessing the curious natures that Kurt and I do, we wondered what would happen if we hadn’t had a permit. Fortunately, we didn’t have to find out first hand.
Hunger spoke, and we broke out our first MRE for dinner. I decided on beef ravioli and Kurt chose the chicken and pasta. Both meals came with crackers, grape jelly and fig newtons. Surprisingly, both our meals were really good (remember we were hungry). They tasted a lot like Chef Boyardee in a bag. Even after devouring the entire MRE, we were both a little hungry still - but we had to ration our food. As we were finishing our meal our neighbors arrived. It was getting dark so we couldn’t see them very well, but we could tell they were two middle age guys from back east somewhere. Kurt and I could also tell they had brought a big lantern, lawn chairs, a video camera and several pots and pans. We wondered how in the world they had carried all of it down and how they would ever get it all back up. We could hardly contain our laughter when the Ranger came to check their permit and asked with disbelief, “Good grief, you guys carried all this down here?” The duo made small talk with the Ranger for a while and we overheard that there is a $500 per person fine if you spend the night in the canyon without a permit.
For the rest of the evening, we entertained ourselves by playing Gin Rummy and listening to our neighbors talk. We could tell they were not use to the outdoors at all. We fell asleep around 9:00pm - we think. We didn’t have a watch or much use for conventional time. (Day 6)