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A hike in The Grand Canyon – Part 3 – Disaster Strikes

[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.0.82″ background_size=”initial” background_position=”top_left” background_repeat=”repeat” _i=”0″ _address=”0.0″ make_fullwidth=”on” custom_padding=”|||0px” custom_margin=”|||0px” padding_left_1=”0px” module_alignment=”left”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_blurb admin_label=”blurb” title=”A hike in The Grand Canyon – Part 3 – Disaster Strikes” _builder_version=”3.0.82″ header_font=”Lato Light||||” header_font_size=”26″ header_text_color=”#e4116f” url_new_window=”off” use_icon=”off” use_circle=”off” use_circle_border=”off” icon_placement=”top” use_icon_font_size=”off” box_shadow_position_image=”outer” background_layout=”light” border_style=”solid” box_shadow_position=”outer” content_max_width=”1100px”] As we set off on Sunday morning I had no idea of what lay ahead – looking back, I should have picked up on certain signs, and if I had been aware of all the facts I would never have agreed to take part in the journey.
We arrived at the North Rim, it was chilly at 5am, Iain was sporting his kilt and a thin sweatshirt, carrying a Walmart bag – something he would become infamous for! I had my merino wool top and thin cotton shirt with shorts, whilst it was chilly I knew it would soon warm up. Ian had chosen long trousers, shirt and lightweight sweatshirt, then decided to wear a heavy weight fleece from the UK – something he later referred to as his first mistake of the day. We all carried rucksacks laden with food, water, emergency equipment and overnight clothing – the rucksacks weighed about 30lb.
As we set off we all started to get into step – Iain a few yards ahead, then me and finally Ian bringing up the rear. I was used to walking with Iain and guessed he would walk a little ahead – he was our unofficial photographer! As we progressed I became aware that Ian was losing ground, I slowed down to keep an eye on him, he had only just overcome a fear of heights, so I wanted to be supportive but not to overcrowd.
The descent was brutal and was taking far longer than anticipated, we were walking at half the speed anticipated and taking far more breaks than planned – I was very concerned.
Our first official stop was at Supai Tunnel 2 miles in to the hike, it had been a tough two miles but we stopped in the cool shade for water, food and toilets, I had to remove my blouse and just walk in my merino tee shirt, it was getting warm, Iain was now down to his tee shirt too and I was really relieved to see that Ian finally removed his fleece. As I assisted in tying the fleece on to the back of his rucksack a Ventolin inhaler fell out of the pocket – my heart sank – this was no place for anyone who has a risk of asthma. Ian was adamant he was fine to continue, having taken a twenty minute break we continued on our way.
The path became steeper, Ian seemed to be slowing further, this was now worrying me, I kept encouraging him to drink as we walked, taking regular breaks & calling ahead to Iain to stop too. On one such break, these were unscheduled and only supposed to be two to five minute stops – Ian appeared to be on the point of collapse; still walking in a sweatshirt & sweating profusely, he sat down & was sick, we were just over 3 miles in. The pump house was at 6.5 miles where there was a ranger and a helipad – I told Ian we had to be realistic, he wasn’t going all the way – bottom line he couldn’t cope with the extreme terrain & heat – I resigned myself to the fact that the dream was over, all that training was for nothing, we just had to protect Ian.
The next 3 miles were horrendous – between Iain & I we coached Ian over every step, managed to get him to remove his sweatshirt, he reckoned he was going to walk out the North rim alone – that was never going to happen! Iain had to physically assist Ian over steps, every one closer to professional help.
On arrival at the pump house we covered Ian with a cold wet towel, gave him rehydration salts and tried to get him to eat a few nuts. After contacting the ranger we were told to physically soak Ian which we did and then stay in the shade. It was around this point that I discovered Ian had barely touched any fluids, he had only just consumed one litre of fluids compared to the 3 to 4 litres we had each drunk. After 2 hours the ranger arrived, she assessed Ian and called me to one side – she told me that the journey was over for all of us, I then received a severe telling off for being irresponsible allowing an asthmatic on the trip, who in her opinion was not physically capable of walking the distance even if it had been cool. The other points I was criticised for were not ensuring that Ian had consumed sufficient water and allowing him to get into such a state.
The decision was made for us, we were to stop overnight and she was going to hike us back out of the North Rim. I left the rangers house to break the news to Iain. When I got back to the guys Ian was feeling a little better, he was asking for his photo to be taken with his Ivan Misner mask!!
Del the ranger was brilliant, Ian later told us she had a real soft spot for him and said what a lovely man he was – I explained we had not known about Ian’s asthma, whilst I knew the training Iain had done with climbing etc, I did not know what training Ian had done. Once Del established that Ian had never even walked up Snowdon she realised he would not be capable of walking out of the Canyon. The maximum weight for a mule is 200lbs – with luggage Ian would be more than 100lbs overweight, this was not an option. The ranger asked Ian to pee in a bottle, it was dark orange, his heart beat was irregular and he had never walked terrain like this – there was no other option, he would be flown out.
After much discussion it was decided that Iain and I should continue, there were a number of restrictions and conditions. We had to stop at Phantom Ranch, leave early, stop at Indian Gardens and leave late, this would mean over 4 hours of our walking would be at night by torchlight – it was a small price to pay.
We said our goodbyes to Ian and set off, we still had best part of 10 miles to walk to Phantom Ranch, it was already after 3pm. We gave Ian the hotel details and all agreed that only he would contact Lucy his wife, and only we would contact Iain’s wife Val & my brother Ken – the last thing we wanted to do was alarm anyone, we would see Ian Monday night / Tuesday morning.
In theory all our contingency plans were good – in practice they failed!
Yes we managed to contact my brother who notified Val & my Mum. Ian was released after about four hours in Flagstaff hospital, unfortunately whilst tucking into his T-bone in Denny’s, obviously still under the influence of the days events, Ian gave out the details on social media. Fortunately he was able to reassure his family, unfortunately we were not aware, and many friends and family had a rough 24 hours not knowing what had happened to us
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