A hike in The Grand Canyon – Part 5 – The only way is up!
The alarm call came at 4.30am – everywhere was pitch black when the nice lady opened the door and shouts “Morning ladies, this is your 4.30am call” – I tried to move, it was painful! Someone turned a small light on, I managed to stand up and one way or another I started to get dressed, I was just about to go and clean my teeth when the last of the ladies finished getting ready and left the dorm, turning the lights off and plunging me back into darkness – this was miserable!
I put my rucksack on and made my way towards the breakfast hall, bumping into Iain on route – it was good to see a friendly face!
It turned out that when Iain had entered his dorm the night before, the only bed available was top bunk next to the air conditioning unit – he wasn’t sure how he managed to make it onto the bunk, but he had, and what was even more impressive he had managed to get back off the bunk this morning!
We made our way into the breakfast room and were given our table to sit at – there were still five minutes before breakfast, the man opposite me already had 8 pancakes, loads of bacon and eggs, in fact the breakfast looked quite nice – that was until I realised that they had left two pancakes, about 6 little rashers of bacon and two spoonfuls of egg – the greedy buggers had ate the lot! I left Iain to have the pancakes and I settled for coffee and two rashers of bacon – we were up against seasoned professionals!
After breakfast, quick visit to the restroom – that’s where I learned that the Americans are a sadistic nation – the toilet seats were SO low, it was agony! We soaked the tee shirts and towels, filled up the hydration packs and off we went, it was 6.30am, the sun was shining and the next stop was Indian Gardens approximately 5.5 miles up the track.
Leaving Phantom Ranch spirits were good and it was cool enough to get a decent pace going, the only problem was stretching the calf and thigh muscles. Just after the campground we came to the bridge over the Colorado river – it was pretty spectacular in the morning sun, and as we walked across we could see the beautiful “beach” of the Colorado. It is true that there is a beach, it looks so pretty and probably goes on for nearly a mile, uphill – and that is where you need to walk!
The sun was starting to gain heat quickly and the incline was never ending, there were very few areas of shade, I think I took advantage of every one of those spots. As we ascended I was beginning to get really hot, my towel had dried out already and my hat just didn’t seem to be helping. My lower legs were also becoming a problem, yesterday whilst standing around I had developed heat rash on both legs, my legs were now swollen, deep purple in colour and blistered – they were very sore!
As we progressed up the switchbacks there were people flying past us, they all seemed much younger and about half our size, they were fit! We just had to get to Indian Gardens! A guy we had seen at Phantom Ranch camping had walked ahead of us, wearing flip flops – we passed him again, he was on his way back from Indian Gardens!
One lady passed us on the way down – she could see I was getting tired, she informed me that there was a creek and fresh water about 15 to 20 minutes away, I could have hugged her! Unfortunately the lady soon became the first of many who I will refer to from now on as the Barstewards!
When you are tired, over heated and walking up a steep hill which is full of steps, the thought of soaking yourself in cold water is the best thing in the world. After about 25 minutes Iain and I came across a puddle of muddy water – surely this couldn’t be the creek, I was devastated! Having found a very small patch of shade I sat for 5 minutes, close to tears. Iain and I knew that giving up or seeking help from a ranger wasn’t an option – let’s face it, they had told us to go out of the North rim, so if we needed rescuing we would no doubt be in serious trouble! We marched on, the switchbacks getting steeper and steeper, five minutes later there was a slightly bigger pool of muddy water – maybe this was what she meant. I was so desperate to cool down I was tempted to put my towel in it, Iain stopped me. I daren’t use my drinking water to cool me down, just in case the water was off again at Indian Gardens, again we marched on, stopping in a delightful shaded cave with a young boy and his dad. The boy could only be about 7, he was marching up there in his full kit, with rucksack and walking poles – he looked as fresh as a daisy and certainly put me to shame! Iain could see I was struggling, I now had a headache and was starting to feel sick – this wasn’t good.
After several more gruelling switchbacks and what seemed like miles of walking ( it was probably only a mile ) and an hour after meeting with the first Barsteward, I could hear water, then we saw it – a lovely stream. I soaked my towel, hat and plunged my tee shirt into the water, it felt fantastic as I put my cold wet tee shirt back on! Within ten minutes of leaving the creek all my clothes were dry again – this heat was evil! Fortunately there were several points where I was able to resoak my clothes, towel and hat. It probably took nearly another hour to get to Indian Gardens, I knew I had hit my limit.
On arrival at Indian Gardens both Iain and I drank some rehydration salts and soaked ourselves in water, we sat in the shade and removed our boots to give our feet a rest, unfortunately the only sandals I had to put on were pretty little gold sandals – they certainly got a few sarcastic comments from people who only saw the sandals and not the boots resting to the side of me!
It was 12 midday, it had taken five and a half hours to walk 5.5 miles, there were 4.8 miles to go, we had broken the back of it – we would do it! We sat in the shade, it was 100 degrees, there is no way we would start walking until 4pm. As the rehydration salts kicked in, so did the hunger – we still had some of the bread ends from Jacob Lake. Taking four warm stale bread ends and the last of the bananas, which was warm and soggy – I carefully prepared two banana sandwiches, one each. Our lunch may sound disgusting, but I have to say those were the best tasting banana sandwiches ever! I then lay on the floor with my legs up on the bench and a cold wet towel across my blistered shins, next thing I remember was waking myself up snoring – classy bird!!
We spent the next four hours resting up in the shade, watching various parents frog marching their offspring back up Bright Angel Trail in the blazing heat of the day – it’s no wonder there are so many people collapsing with heat exhaustion. We saw two girls on their way back from the Colorado, they were from England, the one girl was almost delirious – her friend told her to walk quicker so that they could take longer breaks! We searched for a ranger to find out what had happened to Ian, we guessed he may still be in hospital, but we had no idea which one – we had to get out of the Canyon tonight.