Ed & Marilyn 'The Happy Wanderers' travel blog

Here is Part II of our story about Hiking the Grand Canyon

Hope you enjoy it!

Six hours after leaving the shuttle bus we walked into Bright Angel Campground and were delighted by the sight of sunlight sparkling like diamonds on the rushing water of Bright Angel Creek. The sound of the fast flowing cool waters of Bright Angel Creek convinced us to take the first available campsite.

We put our packs down and headed for the creek.

As we sat on a rock, luxuriating in the cool water, with our tired feet and legs immersed and a wet bandana for a cap, we realized that we were sharing a unique experience known to relatively few people.

It was at least an hour before our strength returned enough to set up camp. Even then we returned to the creek again and again to experience the refreshing coolness of the rushing water.

All afternoon, until nearly dark, groups of backpackers arrived and set up their camps, most too weary to do more than nod a greeting to others.

As the sun moved Westward, the Canyon wall finally cast it’s shadow across the camp bringing a respite from the heat of the day. Almost magically our energy level rose. People talked, laughed, and groaned good naturedly as they recalled the hardships of the day. Blistered feet and toes were doctored, backpacking stoves were lit, meals prepared, water bottles filled in preparation for the morrow and, believe it or not, a social hour began.

People wandered from campsite to campsite visiting with one another. “Hi! Where are you from?” “Which trail did you come down?” How was it?” “Starting out tomorrow?” “How far you going?” These were heard over and over again.

In a campsite on one side of us were two men from Maryville, Missouri, who were leading a group of 12 teenagers on their first backpacking experience. Some of the young people were so sore that they could barely walk but they all seemed to be having the time of their lives. Keith, one of the leaders of their group, teaches History and Geography in High School and had taught three children of two of my own High School classmates. What a small world!

In the campsite on the other side of us were a young couple from Israel. We chatted for some time about their country and I shared my deep affection for Israel and her people which I gained as the result of a visit in 1985.

Finally, before dark, Marilyn and I hiked up the creek and across the footbridge to Phantom Ranch where we strolled around for awhile taking pictures before returning to our camp. Hanging our backpacks high off the ground on a rack made for the purpose of keeping rodents out of our food supply, we turned in for the night. As we lay on our 2 inch thick, self-inflating air/foam mattresses, I felt thankful that a repair kit purchased from Babbit’s General Store on the rim appeared to work just fine. I had torn a one inch tear in my mattress while camping near Oak Creek Canyon a few days before and had spent two nights sleeping on a nearly flat mattress.

Looking at the night sky through the mesh vents in our tent the stars appeared so bright that it seemed we might reach out and touch them.

Before sleep came, the thought occurred to me that, despite all the hardships, this 27th wedding anniversary day had indeed been a very special gift from God.

Awakening on day two from a restful night of sleep we were delighted to find a morning temperature of 63 degrees. I lit our mountain stove, filled the coffee pot with water and put it on to boil while we packed up the tent, sleeping bags and air mattresses. Our calf muscles were so stiff and sore that we could hardly walk but we were soon enjoying a breakfast of coffee, orange juice made from a powder, and peaches and cream flavored instant oatmeal. We were on the trail at 6:40 a.m. laughing about the pain we felt whenever we took a step downward. Stepping up didn’t seem to hurt so much. Yesterday we hiked seven and one-half of the toughest miles we’ve ever walked, all downhill.

With the temperature 99 degrees in the shade at eye level we estimated that the temperature in the sun near the surface was nearly 160 degrees. (That is a normal temperature in the canyon when measured only one inch above the surface)

Today we started earlier in the morning and only had four and one-half miles to go to reach Indian Gardens.

We expected the first one and one-half miles to be fairly level as we walked along the Colorado River. However the trail was never level. It constantly changed from climbing to descending and back again.

Once the trail left the river it became steep again for the remaining three miles. It was here that we climbed a series of steep switchbacks called the “Devils Corkscrew”.

Marilyn and I renamed it the “HUFF N PUFF”.

The constantly changing scenery was so beautiful that, as we walked along, the most common exclamation from us was “WOW”, occasionally punctuated with a grunt as the pain from a steep decline reminded us of yesterday.

Four and one-half hours after leaving Bright Angel Campground we walked into Indian Gardens, took off our packs and sat down to eat our usual noonday fare of Gorp (our own mixture of nuts, raisins, and dried fruit), beef sticks, cheese and crackers, and brownies, all washed down with Gatorade.

We greeted fellow backpackers from Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Israel, Japan, Thailand, Australia, Canada and England as well as different parts of the United States.

We became especially close to Stan and Ursula, a couple from Sierra Vista, Az.

“Is that near Tombstone?” I inquired.

Stan replied that Tombstone, being much smaller than his hometown, is really near Sierra Vista and not the other way around.

An interesting couple, Stan and Ursula met in Moscow, U.S.S.R., where Stan was stationed with the U.S. Army Military Attaché’s Office while Ursula was a secretary for the German Charge De Affairs.

Stan retired from the Army after serving 30 years on active duty and now teaches Math to 7th and 8th grade students.

Ursula speaks five languages and both she and Stan are avid backpackers. They were hiking from the North Rim to the South Rim, a distance of approximately 23 miles.

Ursula’s linguistic skill was called to the front when a young German day hiker was brought into camp in pain. He had descended the Bright Angel trail four and one-half miles from the Rim in ordinary street shoes and his toes were a bloody mess, covered with blisters which had broken. He spoke no English but Ursula soon had him sitting in our camp with his shoes and socks off. Moleskin from both of our first aid kits was cut into various shapes and sizes and applied gently to his mangled feet.

We were astonished to see this young man, after resting a while, put shoes and socks on over his bandaged feet and start hiking, not back toward the Rim, but away toward Plateau Point where he could look up and down the inner gorge and view the Colorado River. Total distance for him that day, by the time he made it back to the Rim, was 12 miles.

Marilyn and I also hiked out to Plateau Point that evening, adding three miles to the four and one-half we had already walked that day, but we only had tired muscles. Besides, tomorrow we had only four and one-half miles to go, but it would be steep again and all uphill. Tomorrow we would face the challenge of the climb to the Rim.

That night the wind gusted fiercely, blowing dust and dirt over everything. The wind whipped our little tent as we crawled into sleeping bags which felt gritty. Sleep came easily and we didn’t even hear the wind after the first few moments. The first instant of regret entered my thoughts shortly before sleep came. Not regret for making the trip, but that tomorrow it would be over.

Awake on the final day. We were up before full light, heating water for coffee, breaking camp, anxious to get started up the trail before the sun zapped our strength and will power.

We exchanged stares with a young deer less than fifty feet away as we walked out of camp at 5:40 a.m.

We followed some of our new friends up the trail but Stan and Ursula remained behind, having decided to eat breakfast before starting the last leg of their journey.

Marilyn and I decided that our breakfast would consist of trail food consumed while hiking.

Around 6:30 a.m. we met the first of the day hikers, traveling light, and we paused to answer their questions about the trail. “How far to the River?” “Does the trail get easier?” “Is there any water down there?” and similar questions. The one thing we noticed about these people from the Rim was that they smelled so nice. Soap and shampoo fresh! Civilization must exist up there.

It had been three days since our last shower and I hadn’t shaved on the morning we started so we must have looked a sight to these people.

We soon began to meet many people, some hiking only part way down the trail to see what it was like. Some heading down to the River to meet the rafts for an eight day float trip down the Colorado all the way to Lake Meade.

Some of the day hikers were going to Indian Gardens and back. Many of the hikers were prepared with food and water and proper boots but some were hurrying down the trail in sneakers with no food and only a can of soda to drink. These are the ones who keep the Rangers busy with as many as 12 dragouts a day.

It was 10:15a.m. when we reached the top.

Filled with feelings impossible to describe, I took Marilyn’s hand in mine to walk those last few steps to the rim. Turning to her I said quietly, “Honey, we began our journey together 27 years ago and we’ll finish this one together.”

Both of us simultaneously stepped onto the rim.

Looking back on that moment which was the culmination of three days of backpacking in the Grand Canyon in celebration of our 27th wedding anniversary, I found myself nearly at a loss of words. For a couple, 46 and 49 years old, backpacking for the first time in our lives, this trip was a highlight among vacation experiences.

We made it! We did okay. I’m extremely proud of my wife who, after one bad experience in the rain many years ago had said to me “Don’t you EVER ask me to go camping again!”

Next year we are coming back and we are bringing our ten year old daughter, Jennifer, with us. Perhaps then we will find words to describe the beauty, the grandeur, the majesty of this magnificent place.

As for today, we only have to recall that awesome moment when hand in hand we stepped to the Rim, to breathe a prayer of thanks to our Creator for the 27 years we have shared together. “If it should all be over tomorrow Lord, It’s been a pleasure.”

Let us know how you liked the story. We sure enjoyed doing it and wish we were young enough to dedicate ourselves to the training, to do it again.

The memory of the three times we were able to do this will live long in our hearts.

Life is Good!

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