22 May, 2009

Grand Canyon-Grandview-Grand Adventure

We arrived at the Back Country office of the Grand Canyon National Park at about 7:15 AM, met our guide, Julie, and caravanned over to Grandview Trail. I had spoken to Julie a few days before on the phone. During that conversation and again upon meeting her she warned and advised us that Grandview was an intense and strenuous trail and said we may want to consider another. No problem, we say, we're ready to do this.

I don't think any combination of words can accurately describe the scene before us as we began our decent into the Canyon. Initially an Indian trail, Grandview was built up in the mid 1800's by miner Peter Berry. The first portion was makeshift steps constructed of rocks and wooden logs. That eventually turned into slopes embedded with stones that provided minimal traction. The stone slopes then became dirt trails that were periodically blocked by miscellaneous boulders and rocks that we had to scale. Regardless of the terrain, it was almost always at a 45 degree angle. At it's widest the trail was probably about two feet but the majority of the time it was closer to one. There were no rails, barricades, or safety nets, just you, the trail, and the cliff.

The extremity of the trail made it somewhat difficult to focus on the beauty of the Canyon, but we managed to take pictures and pause periodically to enjoy the view. We saw and photographed portions of the Canyon that hardly anyone ever gets to see. Since Bright Angel trail and Kaibab trail are frequented more often we were generally alone along Grandview. We did meet a few groups - one from Boston had been hiking and camping in the Canyon for 6 days. Another hiked the trail as part of an effort to raise money for blood cancer research.

It took us about 2 hours to cover the 3 miles of trail, 2000 feet of elevation, and 1.8 billion years of erosion on the way down. We stopped for a few minutes to admire Horseshoe Mesa and marvel at how far we'd come before breaking for lunch just outside of an old mine entrance. Virtually the minute we started ascending it became more difficult to breath. The constant strain of resisting the bodies urge to go forward on the way down seemed like nothing compared to the effort required to propel yourself upward. It became clear very quickly that the trek back would be much more laborious than the trek down.

For every ten minutes of hiking there was ten minutes of resting. I didn't notice much on the way down, but the frequency of the switch backs is really discouraging. The trail essentially runs in a zig zag pattern back and forth along the edge of the canyon so your constantly switching back and forth making minimal progress each time. We ran out of water by the end. We kept passing and being passed by other groups; everyone was exhausted and praying that the next switch back would be the last. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we made it to the
top. Sweet victory.

Despite our success we did lose battles along the way. Andy suffered a little heat exhaustion and painful leg cramps, I managed to pull muscles in my right ankle and right butt cheek, and although Sean repeatedly asserted that he wasn't sore it turned out that his back and hips were in less than perfect condition. Although it was possible to hike the trail without a guide, we are all happy that Julie was with us. Her knowledge, experience and company made the hike much more enjoyable and a little less frightening. She informed us that of the 5 million people who visit the Grand Canyon every year, only 3-5% of them actually go below the rim. She commended us for being among the few who experience the Grand Canyon instead of just admiring it.

The Grand Canyon. I would venture to say it is a beast of sorts in rare form. It seems innocent enough looking out from the rim; stunning formations, valleys as far as the eye can see, a light breeze and a peaceful calm. It appears to be nothing more than a passive wonder of nature offering breathtaking views and an inspirational presence, but looks can be deceiving.

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