Oh My Grand Canyon 2013

by Jean on June 7, 2013

A walk in the Park

My GC 2013 trip started when we were driving home on the last day of R2R2R 2012, when Stephanie called to ask about going on the trip this year. I need very little encouragement to look ahead to the next year’s hike (even when I still have rocks inside my calves) and so it all began.


Whether it is your first year to hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, or your tenth year like mine, the fear that you feel when you look over the edge the night before remains piercing.  First timers have no idea what to expect, and despite my warnings I know at some point on the hike either their athletic ability or their confidence will be shaken to the core.  Probably both, and they will swear never to return.  I used to think the same thing, but now I have accepted the facts that this place, these intense feelings, and these wonderful people are forever in my heart. Standing at the Rim, returning hikers are reminded of exactly what they must do – and how one bad blister or rolled ankle is a deal breaker.  The post-Canyon amnesia from earlier years that tricked them into signing up again quickly evaporates.   Do we have a false confidence because we did it before?  Yes, we do.


We try to eat a good dinner, but the jitters take over and we hope we can rely on the good nutrition from the day before.  Or, at least burn off the carbs from the beer we had at the pool. To me it feels like the night before the first day of school, Christmas Eve, your birthday, and the moment before the rollercoaster drops on that first big hill – all rolled into one. You hurry to pack.  You can’t find your ziplock bags.  You realize all of your crap will never fit into your backpack, and it suddenly weighs much more than it ever did on practice hikes.   You call the Wake Up desk and give them a time to call you, when you are usually enjoying last call.  You try to sleep but your mind whirls.  These days, I have added each hiker to my Pre-Hike Worry List.  Some of them I have gotten to know very well, but some have yet to engage.   Did they read the e-mails, did they believe me, did they bring the right gear, did they train, can I help them get out?


At 3 AM we took the first step.  This year I hiked South to North.  One R2R was my limit.  I learned long ago to listen to my body and not my ego, and my goal each year remains just to get out.  Silence and sunrise below the Rim continues to be something I can’t ever describe, and I won’t try. The South Kaibab trail holds some of my favorite sights:  the panorama, the brown swoop hill, the first glimpse of the river, the green walls, and the place where my husband proposed – where I whisper the promise that I will always keep.  Downhill actually felt good.  I even kept up with the fast oxygen machine women for awhile, but this euphoria would not last long.


Gentle deer greeted us at 7 AM at Phantom Ranch, and soon we heard the bad news. The past 2 years we have had pipeline breaks but had managed to find clean water – nope, not this year.  OMG I hoped the hikers brought all the water filters and purifiers I told them to because “SOL” would be a serious understatement.  I never want to know anyone listed in the Death Book.  There was nowhere to go but forward, and so we were off.  I hiked with an extra empty bladder this year, which turned out to be darn handy.  The steri-pen failed, the little filter bottle was laughable with 3 + liters to fill over and over.  A lesson learned.  Thank goodness for a filter pump, purifier pills, and the willingness of strong men to carrying the extra bladder.   The Phantom Ranch foot check revealed a dazzling array of blisters on each heel, side of foot, and interior.  Moleskin was applied, but 4 hours of damage was already done.


It got real.  6 of us went through the box, and into the sun.  The 7 miles from Phantom to Cottonwood seemed worse to me than the hike out, until of course I get to the point when I had to hike out. I stopped saying Good Morning.


At the Pumphouse we did our final prep and it was time to go UP.  It was 1 PM, and 6.5 hours lay ahead of me. This was the year of Sal. This wonderful man let me set the pace and rest often.  I think I thanked him 1,000 times, and I continue to do so now.  By the footbridge, I knew I was in trouble.  My right heel had opened and drained, my sock was soaked with fluid, and my shoe had turned into a knife with each step.  Altitude, exhaustion, and cardio played their cruel jokes.


Coming up the browns we saw the Dudes, and could hear echos of the Seebertons behind us.  Am I really related to all these people who are so perky 21 miles in?  I no longer wanted that prized photo of the Supai Tunnel.  Thank you Keri for snapping one, one day I will enjoy looking at it.   Finally at Supai we got visual sightings or verbal updates on ALL the hikers.  All the news was good – everyone would make it out that day.  I could breathe again.


Somewhere above Supai Tunnel, with the electric blue bird showing us the way home, I spotted some people way up high still up in the trees.  I pointed them out to Sal, totally depressed we still had that far to go.  It turns out those people up on the cloud were Patrick and Jena, who had heard we were almost up and had headed down to greet us.  We were so thankful.  60,000 steps – 25 miles – 551 flights of stairs at a burning temp 100 degrees – an R2R was finally behind us.


People ask me if one day of just walking can really change you forever.  Yes, it can.  Does a simple act of kindness really cement a new friend for life?  Absolutely.  Does this experience really bond us forever?  Without a doubt.


I love these magical treks when we truly support and build each other up. I love making these new friends, renewing old and dear friendships, and knowing that we have walked away with our hearts full.


Years ago I crossed over when I first felt more excitement for their hikes than I did for my own.  Within that special feeling is my success and joy.  I see my dream in their triumphant smiles.


This experience reminds me that no matter where you go, it is truly the people that make a place Magnificent. Thank you, my dear friends, for making GC 2013 an adventure of a lifetime.  I am so happy and proud of all of you.


With love, your Grand Canyon Jean

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