ATLANTA TO SEATTLE ROAD TRIP – Day 6: Challenging Hike at Grand Canyon

Good morning Grand Canyon!

After sleeping at 11pm last night in our car on the rear seat and a foldable mattress, we woke up around 4am in the morning. All the car window panes were covered with fog. We quickly thought of getting out and get ready for watching sunrise and our hike for the day. Aman attempted to open the left rear door of the car, but was not able to. It was strange. I tried the right rear, and same thing  happened, it didn’t open. We thought may be because of the fog and cold they are jammed up. But were not able to assimilate this fact. We tried again, but no luck in opening. This made us weirdly laugh on our situation of being locked up in our own car!

Then we considered to open the front doors, and were successful in that. But there were backpacks and other stuff sitting on the front seats, so it was difficult to hop out of the car through them. Aman somehow managed to squeeze through the space between rear seat and the driver seat taking advantage of his thin body. When he was out he pulled the rear door from outside and it magically opened for us. It was still sounding strange to me that why we are not able to open it from inside. Any guesses, you readers? I stayed in the car, when Aman went to use the restroom.

While he was away, I was able to find out the reason for us being locked in our own car. It was because the rear doors were child locked, which we didn’t know about.

Anyways, we could now see some people around the parking lot, who were all ready to start their day in Grand Canyon. Seeing them, we hurried up and got ready to see the sunrise at the Mather Point and then to start our hike down to the river.

Aman packed a backpack with some snacks, light lunch and water for the day and I carried my camera backpack. We walked to the Mather Point which was across the parking lot. The canyon was covered all over with the clouds. There was not even a glimpse of it through the clouds. I became a bit sad, because we came here last night to see the sunrise, but weather is something on which we don’t have control. We walked ahead towards the shuttle bus stop after deciding to hike on the South Kaibab Trail. While on our way to the trailhead, we took some tips for hiking the Grand Canyon from the bus driver. Shuttle bus dropped us at our trailhead.

At the trailhead, there were numerous danger signs for hiking the grand canyon. They read, “Hike smart – Plan on taking twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down. DO NOT attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day, especially May to September. Over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. The difference between a great adventure in Grand Canyon and a trip to the hospital (or worse) is up to YOU.” There were pictures of some models showing that good looking and fit people like these have died on this trail, because they tried hiking (going down and coming up) in just one day.

All of these signs were scaring me as I am not a serious hiker, and I can’t push myself too much after a certain time. I was also scared of the fact that we were not carrying enough food and water with us for the whole day of hiking.

Ignoring the danger signs, we started our hike down at 6:35am. It was foggy and it was cold. We were wearing a warm shirt underneath a fleece jacket, gloves, and warm caps.

Grand Canyon is 1 mile deep from rim to the  Colorado river. This one mile deep canyon is accessible through various trails. We chose the South Kaibab Trail, which descends rapidly and gradually through various switchbacks and flats to the river in 7 miles of hike one way.

South Kaibab Trail is known for its unparalleled panoramic views of the Grand Canyon, as compared to any other trail. But I was wondering if we will be able to see any views in this cloud covered morning. We started our descend with a series of tight switchbacks. We reached the Ooh Aah Point, first panoramic view of the canyon, after about half a mile of hike, but for me Ooh Aah started when I saw the first look of the cloud covered canyon in these switchbacks.

The views were incredible with the morning sun rays. Actually the clouds were floating just above the canyon. (May be that’s why there was no view from the top). We spent about 15 minutes here, with me being scared of Aman climbing up the cliff and on the other hand Aman enjoying the vistas from top and repatedly asking me to join him on the cliff to take photos from where he was sitting.

I didn’t go all the way up, but peeped in through a point from where I could see the great Grand Canyon really grand and breathtaking views of the morning light falling on this beautifully carved piece of nature.

From the Ooh Aah Point, the trail follows the top of a ridgeline and after a few steep-plunged switchbacks, we reached Cedar Ridge (1.5 mile from the rim, elevation change – 1140 ft). A group of backpackers who started with us, were resting here for a while, eating their snacks and giving rest to their backs.

Pano views from Cedar Ridge
Pano views from Cedar Ridge

After taking few photos here, we then traversed below the O’Neill Butte without a single switchback to Skeleton Point (3 mile from the rim, elevation change – 2040 ft). At the skeleton point, the panoramic views of the Grand Canyon were extraordinary. We sat at the cliff edge, ate our snack and took few photos of ourselves enjoying being on the top the world (though technically now the depth of the canyon was less than 1 mile).

Me, enjoying the feeling of being on top of this world
Me, enjoying the feeling of being on top of this world

After the Skeleton Point, the trail descends rapidly via a series of switchbacks to the Tonto Platform and Tipoff (4.4 mile from the rim, elevation change – 3260 ft). At the Tonto platform, we came across two mule wranglers with mules and their passengers. Tonto Platform was a perfect place for mules to rest. This herd of mules and their passengers were ascending up.

Mule resting at Tonto Platform
Mules resting at Tonto Platform
Black & White - taken at Tipoff, looking up. Sky was opening up :)
Black & White – taken at Tipoff, looking up. Sky was opening up 🙂

There were two Asian men who were almost always ahead of us right from the Skeleton Point (I will tell you all later on my way up, that what I learnt from these Asian men).

Below Tipoff, the South Kaibab Trail gradually descends 2.6 miles with views of the Colorado river at some switchbacks.

First look of the Colorado river after the Tipoff and Tonto Platform
First look of the Colorado river after the Tipoff and Tonto Platform

Somewhere between the Tipoff point and entrance to the suspension bridge, I saw a herd of mules, carrying loads and making their way up to the rim through this challenging trail.

Mules ascending up on South Kaibab Trail with loads on their back
Mules ascending up on South Kaibab Trail with loads on their back

After another series of switchbacks and views of the mighty Colorado river, we made our way to the Black Suspension Bridge.

Entrance to Black Suspension Bridge though a dark tunnel
Entrance to Black Suspension Bridge though a dark tunnel

The Black Suspension foot bridge hangs 70 ft above the aqua green colored Colorado river. Below is the  photo taken from the bridge of the river along with inner canyon.

SSP_1671

 

HDR image of river from the suspension bridge looking on the other side. Rafters getting off/on the raft
HDR image of river from the suspension bridge looking on the other side. Rafters getting off/on the raft

We reached the river around 10:00am. Time from rim: 3.5 hours; Miles: 7; Elevation change: 4780 ft.

A group of river rafters were coming back from their river trip and making their way to the campsites. We found a picnic table under shade to eat our lunch. After eating a light bread & cheese lunch we straightened up and massaged our back by lying down on the either side of the picnic benches.

View of the inner canyon from our picnic table
HDR Image – View of the inner canyon from our picnic table

Following our half hour rest, we made our way to the Bright Angel campground. Here we filled our water bottles and went down to Bright Angel creek flowing across the campground. At the creek three campers were washing their clothes by slapping them against the stones.

Bright Angel Creek with Black Suspension Bridge in the background
Bright Angel Creek with Black Suspension Bridge in the background

We made our way back through the Bright Angel campground to the Colorado river. The river water was clean and of aqua green color. We sat there for 15 minutes.

Colorado river and the Inner Canyon
Colorado river and the Inner Canyon

Post our visit to the mighty Colorado river we commenced our hike up to the rim at 12:15pm. The worse time of the day to hike in Grand Canyon and that too while ascending up.

My knees were already hurting because of our morning descend. Within two switchbacks, I gave up and started crying that I won’t be able to climb for 7-8 hours (based on the warning we read at trailhead) upto the rim today in this scorching heat of May. But Aman being brave as always consoled me and motivated me to do this by saying he is with me, if anything happens. He has always been my motivation to do physical exercises way out of my limit. He took my camera backpack from me on his shoulders along with his own backpack. So one bag hanging on his back and another in front of his chest. Heads off to him, he did the entire way up with two backpacks without even complaining once. ( I know these two backpacks are not even comparable to to what backpackers carry with them, but we were first timers in this kind of a hike).

I did not take many photos while climbing up. My legs were hurting and my mind was exhausted for any kind of creativity. I don’t know how so many photographers out there climb the mountains and be in wild for days and still make beautiful photos. I believe it comes with practice and experience and camping :P.

Same place where we saw the Colorado river the first time while hiking down. Same scene with different light conditions.
Same place where we saw the Colorado river the first time while hiking down. Same scene with different light conditions.

Before reaching toward the end of this hike and day, I want to tell you all that, the two Asian men who were in front of us on our way down to the river, were now back, climbing the trail behind us. They made their way up fast enough that we were not able to see them again the entire climb. I learnt one thing about their hike and may be that’s the reason for their fast hike up. Both of them were climbing at a distance of approx 0.1 mile. And they were not looking back and forth to each other, just concentrating on their climb looking down at the trail, making their way up slowly & gradually without a single stop. Their strategy to keep going slowly without taking breaks reminded me of the story of the rabbit and turtle from my childhood days.

Sun was on the top of our heads, and we had just 2 liters of water for both of us. It was scary. The most challenging part of the hike up was the mountain just after the Tipoff with a steep ascend to the Skeleton Point. I was literally feeling something will happen to me over here. There was not a single cloud above us, and we had to go through a series of switchbacks. This part of the South Kaibab Trail has been blasted directly out of the limestone cliffs. It was tough. I took this picture in the morning, when we were hiking down. I am placing it here just to show you all how steep the ascend was.

The tough rock to climb up with steep ascend/ descend.
The tough rock to climb up with steep ascend/ descend.

To maintain my enthusiasm to complete this hike, Aman started telling this to me – “you are the first woman in your entire family to do a hike like this, you should be proud of yourselves”. And I was like “blah!”

We met and spoke to people from different parts of the world on our way up. This place is so famous amongst serious backpackers and hikers, that they come from across the globe to challenge their strength over here. Marathoners come here for practice, they finish the complete hike of 14 miles roundtrip in just 4 hours. We actually saw a man doing something similar like this in the morning when were on our way to the river. With just 1 liter of water with him, he hiked running down to the river and came back up running all the way. He was half way back up when were still making our way down to the river. These little and big things encouraged me to push myself and be proud of my challenging hike story of the Grand Canyon.

The picture I took of the Grand Canyon, just after crossing the Cedar Ridge
The picture I took of the Grand Canyon, just after crossing the Cedar Ridge

To motivate me further, Aman started to tell me the stories about his former advisor’s hike to Grand Canyon in her younger years. She told him that people who hike places like these earn these breathtaking views. During her hike at the Grand Canyon she encountered few Asian women, who hiked for less than half a mile to a viewpoint on the trail in their heels and inappropriate clothing for hiking to just get their pictures clicked standing in front of the vistas of the Grand Canyon. She felt pity about those women.

Well, I saw the exact same thing happening right in front of my eyes. When we reached the Ooh Aah Point, it was crowded with so many tourists unlike morning. I saw Asian women in heels, bathroom slippers, soft towel slippers, walking on the trail towards Ooh Aah Point and taking selfies with  panoramic views of the Grand Canyon in the background. Seeing this pissed me off completely. What are they doing? Why are they here? It was too much to see. We quickly passed them and made our final ascend to the rim through last series of tight switchbacks.

With all the fun, learning, crying, giving up and Aman’s motivational thoughts and inspirational stories we made it to the top of the rim around 4:45pm with a sip of water still left in our water bottle. I was not able to believe we made to the top in 4.5 hours. This was not the double the time of going down. It was just one hour extra. I was feeling proud of myself of finishing up the hike in less than 11 hours (including the 2 hours of the rest time at the river) and was waiting to tell this to everyone whom I know.

We sat at the trailhead for few minutes waiting for the shuttle bus to arrive. After reaching the parking lot we entered a cafe near the visitor center and grabbed Gatorade and Ginger Beer to drink. We sat in our car, ate some tortilla chips with our drinks. It was almost time for sunset. But we didn’t had the energy to wait for one more hour to admire the beautiful sunset in the canyon, and decided to head back south on I-40, to find a nearest town and hotel to sleep.

We slept at a Super 8 in the small town of Williams located just off I-40.

Directions from Grand Canyon to Super 8 in Williams, AZ
Directions from Grand Canyon to Super 8 in Williams, AZ

 

 

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. ravinepalia says:

    “Aman started telling this to me – “you are the first woman in your entire family to do a hike like this, you should be proud of yourselves”. And I was like “blah!”

    This line made me laugh so hard 😀 😀 hahah..Did u really cry sonal? 😛 hats off to Aman 🙂 . You guys are one inspiring couple ..keep going…great story..awesome pictures… now I feel I should have written about my trekking experiences, nothing campared to yours 😛 but I think its a great way to store all memories. 😀

    1. Hahaha… Yes I did cried, it was tough for me and in the heat without any shade. Thanks for compliments :). You can write now, its not too late to start… and yes its a great way to store all memories, Aman has been thanking me for writing this blog 🙂

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