All things considered, I got a good night's sleep in the dorm. Interestingly, about three bunks were empty. When I inquired about this, a staff member told me that a whole other dorm was also empty -- he wasn't sure why. Maybe people had been spooked by the California storms and cancelled. Whatever the case, if you are able to hike the canyon at Christmas, you may want to inquire about cancellations at PL.
The wakeup call came at 5 and slowly my dorm mates started getting up. I was scheduled for the 7 a.m. breakfast so dozed a bit. Everyone was quite considerate and not at all noisy. The young Swiss man slept through everything, snoring loudly. When I left at 7.45 he was still sacked out! Oh to be young!
Breakfast was really great -- excellent value. Unlimited scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, coffee, and canned peaches. A last chat and goodbyes while we ate and then I was on the trail by 7.45. Almost everyone else was staying down for a few days. I think that if / when I hike the canyon again, I will camp and spend a few days at the bottom. I loved being disconnected from everything and meeting such interesting people.
In that part of the canyon, the day was overcast. I had decided to go up the Bright Angel (BA) trail, even though I knew it would not be as spectacular as the SK trail -- which had captured my heart and soul. But other, more experienced GC hikers had encouraged me to do the BA trial to get an idea of the diversity of the canyon.
I passed some mulehead deer just past the BA campground, crossed the bridge, and then started along the River Trail, where I was soon overtaken by a mule team carrying guests. Soon I had left the river and was making my way up the BA canyon. Then the Devil's Corkscrew and more slogging until I finally reached Indian Garden, where I stopped for about 20 minutes.
To be honest, I found that first part of the BA trail a bit of a letdown -- not a whole lot in the way of views and of course, the flat, overcast conditions made for unspectactular photos. The sun was shining on other parts of the canyon -- I could see the blue sky in the distance -- but for almost all my climb, I hiked under cloudy skies.
At IG it was getting nippy and I worried for a while that it might start raining or snowing.
When hiking, I always pay attention to elevation gain and percentage of the grade. From my reading I saw that the elevation gain between the river and IG was only 1300 feet -- less than 1/3 of the total gain (but 1/2 of the longitudinal distance). So I knew the worse was yet to come. Not only would I be going up more, but it would be a steeper grade. However, even when they were steep, I found the trails to be well-graded, never too steep. By my calculations, the BA trail has an average grade of about 10%, which is quite do-able. Whoever designed it was thinking of us!
(In contrast, just outside of Vancouver we have the infamous "Grouse Grind," a 1.9 mile (2.9 km) trail that snakes its way 2,800 feet (853 m) up Grouse Mountain. Refered to as "Mother Nature's Stairmaster," the Grind contains 2,830 steps, "as worn as those of St Peter's Cathedral," and has a grade averaging 30%. Over 100,000 hikers use the trail each year and a few races are held. Official fastest time is 25 minutes. Oh to be young again!)
So I started off for 3 Mile rest house and got there in about an hour, stopping once in a while to take photos. The views were now becoming more spectacular. I intended to rest for only 15 minutes but got into some interesting conversations with other hikers and that stretched into 45. But who's in a rush? I was off again and an hour later arrived at 1 1/2 Mile rest house. Now I was in the "Ooh-ah!" zone, snapping photos and enjoying the sun that was attempting to break through.
I found myself getting a little fatigued in that last stretch to the rim. Not sure if it was the thin air or just fatigue, but I took it slower, one foot in front of another. It's not a race. The trail was quite muddy on this section and I was glad I had waterproofed my boots. So I slogged along, now enjoying the sun, and just after 3.30 I summitted, or rimmed, or whatever we should call it. A great sense of exhileration! I owned the canyon!
Sore muscles, it was all I could think of. I went over to BAL and checked in (the Bucky annex again -- same room as before) and then did some stretching exercises as soon as I got into my room. Then into a delightfully scalding hot bath where I wallowed for about 30 minutes, willing my leg muscles to relax.
Completely refreshed, I went out to see the sunset and then spent the rest of the evening puttering in my room, repacking and planning the next day. By 9. 30 sleep had overtaken me and I was out.
A wonderful sleep, getting up at 7 the next morning. After breakfast I checked out and went over to the General Store, where I returned my rental equipment and got a refund for the unused crampons. I can't say enough about how helpful those folks were.
Surprisingly I wasn't feeling very stiff -- a few sore leg muscles, but I've experienced much worse in the past.
I decided to drive down to Desert View -- it had been recommended. The day was overcast, cold, and snowy. How fortuneate I had been to get the break in the weather. A pleasant drive during which I saw some deer and a bobcat. The weather at Desert View was bad -- snow flurries, so I headed for the warmth of the Observation Tower where I enjoyed the Native American art that adorns the interiour walls. Definitely worth the visit.
On my way back along the rim I came across emergency response personnel on the scene of a single vehicle accident. Somehow, on a very good road with a posted speed limit of 45mph, a SUV had managed to flip so that it came to rest on its roof -- on the road. Can't see how that happened, but a sober reminder to remain vigilant.
With a sad heart I passed through the park's gates and headed back to Williams to begin the next leg of my journey -- 1 1/2 days tracing historic Route 66 through Arizona and western California.
But that's another story.
Musings, Suggestions, and Comments (in no particular order)
-- On the advice of some TA contributers, I took some "Vitamin I" (ibuprofen) before, during, and after my hike. Not sure what difference it made, but I suffered remarkably little stiffness and muscle and joint pain during and after my hike.
--I didn't have any problem with my feet at all. I used my good hiking boots that have served me well in recent years, with a thin liner sock and then a wool hiking sock. As a precaution I took moleskins.
--The Parks Service sells a little booklet on each of the trails -- 3.95 each. they are available in the gift shops and General Store. I found them worthwhile as they not only give factual info on distances, etc., but also explain what you are passing through.
--make sure your boots / shoes are waterproofed if hiking in the winter.
--Carry a good first aid kit
--Bring tissues or toilet paper. Some of the outhouses do not have toilet paper -- guess who found out the hard way!
--I drank 2 litres of water going down, 3 coming up. Probably should have drunk more.
--In my view, two hiking poles are a must. Not only do they relieve pressure and starin on your joints, but they help with balance. The drop off from portions of the trail are quite steep and one has to be very careful. Getting too close to the edge and then stumbling could be fatal. Just looking over the edge can be disorienting. So be safe and carry poles. You won't need them all the time, but you won't regret having them.
--Knee braces are available for sale at the General Store.
--Look out for green mule poop on the trails. Apparently it is green because they are fed very wholesome food.
--Trail etiquette. Going up, I decided to address the issue of right of way by refusing to yield. When people were coming down, I just stayed in the middle of the trail and forged ahead in a determined, purposeful, and confident manner. Sort of a high stakes game of "chicken." It worked, most of the time. Boors will be boors.
-From what I have read, heard, and seen, I would not visit the GC between June and Sept. Way too many people and way too hot. I looked at all the Parking Lot A, B, C, D, etc., bus parking, overflow parking, and groaned at the thought. And of course, the heat. No thank you.
--From talking to staff members at PL and some of the wranglers and rangers, the overwhelming consensus seems to be that the vast majority of injuries and deaths (between 20 and 30 of the latter each year) take place in the summer months and are preventable. People hiking without being prepared, doing stupid things, and not preparing for the heat and so succombing to heat exhaustion. The staff at PL said that on average they deal with one medical emergency a day during the summer -- hikers arriving in a state of severe dehydration and exhaustion. One spoke of dragging hikers over to the BA stream and dumping them into it to cool off and revive.
--I was struck by how many seniors I saw on the trail -- and not huffing and puffing. I met one man about my age who was hiking (with a full pack) with an obviously older woman. They had just camped at IG and were on their way down to the bottom for three days of hiking there. Remarkably at ease, the man said that this was his companion's ninth foray into the canyon. All in all, the examples of these and other senior hikers encouraged me -- I have many many years of hiking left and no cause for whining. Huzzah!
-- Hike the South Kaibab trail, preferably down. To miss it is pure folly.
--Cameras. If you own a DSLR camera, bring a polarizing lens. An absolute must for anything bout a wide angle lens. I used a lightweight tripod for shots on the rim, but did not carry it with me on the hike, and didn't miss it. I also carried a small point and shoot which I used for less important shots -- self portraits. Had it on my belt and accessible.
--Enjoy the journey. It may be the only time you make the hike so take your time and enjoy it. It's not a race. It's one of the most amazing places in the world to hike, so savour the experience. Stop and look around in all directions. Chat with fellow hikers. Half way down the SK trail I came upon a woman who had found a nice little niche about 20 feet off the trail and had settled in there in the sun, just sitting and being. What a wise soul.
--I came away from my hike with a sense of gratefulness that everything had gone so well. So much could have gone wrong. Apart from hiking mishaps and accidents, I could have fallen ill in the week before the hike -- or gotten food poisoning, or whatever. But I didn't, -- the hike was a success, and for that I am grateful.
P.S. How can I add photos to this post?